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Breaking down the Duke vs. NC State historic Easter Elite 8 matchup

DALLAS (WGHP) — Two titans of the Atlantic Coast Conference will match up on Easter Sunday for a spot in the Final Four.

Just two years removed from the infamous Battle of the Blue Boods that saw the North Carolina Tar Heels match up with the Duke Blue Devils for a spot in the national championship game, Duke and NC State will play one another for a spot in the Final Four.

How did NC State get here?

After ending their regular season on a four-game losing streak, which included two losses in three days to UNC and Duke University, all hope was seemingly lost.

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NC State finished the season with a 17-14 overall record and went 9-11 against ACC opponents, good for a 10th-place finish in the conference.

CHAPEL HILL, NC – MARCH 02: North Carolina State Wolfpack head coach Kevin Keatts talks to North Carolina State Wolfpack guard Casey Morsell (14) after fouling out during the college basketball game between the North Carolina State Wolfpack and the North Carolina Tar Heels on March 2, 2024, at the Dean Smith Center in Raleigh, NC. UNC won 79-70 (Photo by Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

At the end of the season, many speculated on the long-term future of NC State head coach Kevin Keatts.

Despite all of those factors, the Wolfpack showed the world that it’s called March Madness for a reason.

Taking care of business early in the ACC Tournament

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 12: The North Carolina State Wolfpack bench celebrates in the second half against the Louisville Cardinals in the First Round of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 12, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

It started in the first round when NC State pulled away from the last-ranked team in the tournament, the University of Lousiville, for a 94-85 win on March 12 as expected.

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 13: Jayden Taylor #1 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack shoots the ball in the second half against the Syracuse Orange in the Second Round of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 13, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

The Wolfpack then dominated seventh-seed Syracuse University 83-65 on March 13 in a not-so-shocking upset.

Tobacco Road revenge

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 14: Casey Morsell #14 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack celebrates with the mascot after a 74-69 victory against the Duke Blue Devils in the Quarterfinals of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 14, 2024, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

The magic really began the next day when NC State held on late to stun second-seed No. 11 Duke in the quarterfinals.

The Wolfpack led by as much as 10 points in the game but had to scramble to survive a late rally from the Blue Devils to hold on for the 74-69 win.

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 14: Mohamed Diarra #23 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack celebrates in the first half against the Duke Blue Devils in the Quarterfinals of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 14, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

The win avenged NC State’s 64-79 loss to Duke on March 4 at PNC Arena.

Do you believe in miracles?

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 15: The North Carolina State Wolfpack celebrate after a 73-65 victory against the Virginia Cavaliers in the Semifinals of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 15, 2024, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

It appeared as if the Cinderella story was doomed to end in the semifinals against the University of Virginia on March 15 as the Wolfpack trailed 55-58 with six seconds remaining on the clock after guard Casey Morsell missed a three-pointer to tie the game.

NC State was forced to foul and just one made free throw from Virginia would likely have been enough to clinch the win for the Cavaliers.

Lucky for the Wolfpack, Virginia missed the free throw and gave NC State one more chance. Guard Michael O’Connell caught the outlet pass, advanced the ball past halfcourt to the left wing and threw up prayer as time expired with a Virginia defender draped all over him.

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 15: Michael O’Connell #12 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack shoots a three-point basket to tie the game at the end of regulation against Isaac McKneely #11 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the Semifinals of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 15, 2024, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

The shot kissed off the square and went through the net as time expired, miraculously sending the game into overtime.

NC State proceeded to dominate in the extra period, winning the game by a final score of 73-65 and advancing to the ACC Championship Game.

Tobacco Road revenge again

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 16: Head coach Kevin Keatts of the North Carolina State Wolfpack cuts down the net after winning the Championship Game of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament 84-76 against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Capital One Arena on March 16, 2024, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Despite entering the contest on March 16 as 10.5-point underdogs and having been swept in the season series against UNC, the feisty Wolfpack somehow did it again.

NC State pounced on the Tar Heels early, taking a 16-6 lead in the first 5.5 minutes of the game. UNC withstood the early run and clawed back to take a one-point lead into halftime.

Trailing 39-40 going into the second half, many assumed that the Wolpack’s luck had finally run dry and that the grind of playing five games in five days had finally taken its toll.

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 16: DJ Horne #0 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack celebrates in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Championship Game of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 16, 2024, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Instead, with its season on the line, NC State put together one of its finest halves of basketball of the season. They expanded their lead to 11 points late and ultimately put UNC away by a final score of 84-76 and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 16: Mohamed Diarra #23 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack celebrates after winning the Championship Game of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament 84-76 against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Capital One Arena on March 16, 2024, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

With their unlikely Cinderella run to the ACC Tournament title, NC State became just the second team in the history of college basketball to win five games in five days.

As a result, the Wolfpack earned an automatic qualifying bid to the Big Dance and the 11-seed in the South region of the bracket.

They faced off with the 6-seed No. 22-ranked Texas Tech University Red Raiders in the first round of the tournament on March 21.

Despite coming into the game as 5-point underdogs, according to DraftKings. NC State defied the oddsmakers yet again in a dominant 80-67 win.

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – MARCH 21: Breon Pass #10 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack celebrates with his teammates after defeating the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the second half in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at PPG PAINTS Arena on March 21, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The North Carolina State Wolfpack won, 80-67. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

The win was the Wolfpack’s sixth in a row and their third in a row against a ranked opponent.

The win also marked the first time that NC State has advanced past the first round in the NCAA Tournament since 2015.

On March 23, the Wolfpack found themselves in the unfamiliar position of being the hunted rather than the hunter.

NC State’s opponent was a fellow Cinderella story in the 14-seed Oakland University Golden Grizzlies.

Oakland had previously pulled off a stunning upset of the 3-seed No. 12-ranked University of Kentucky Wildcats, winning 80-76.

Oakland is led by head coach Greg Kampe who is in his 40th season leading the Golden Grizzlies.

The Wolfpack came into the game as a 6-point favorite, according to DraftKings.

NC State controlled most of the game, leading throughout and held a nine-point lead at one point.

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – MARCH 23: DJ Burns Jr. #30 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack is fouled by Blake Lampman #11 of the Oakland Golden Grizzlies in the second half during the second round of the 2024 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament held at PPG PAINTS Arena on March 23, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The feisty Golden Grizzlies crawled their way back into the game and forced the contest into overtime.

Much like they did in the ACC Tournament against the University of Virginia, the Wolfpack dominated in the extra period and extended their lead back to nine points before ultimately coming away with the 79-73 win.

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – MARCH 23: Michael O’Connell #12 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack celebrates with Jayden Taylor #1 following a 79-73 overtime win over the Oakland Golden Grizzlies during the second round of the 2024 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament held at PPG PAINTS Arena on March 23, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The victory sent NC State to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015 and extended their winning streak to seven games in a row.

The Wolfpack’s next opponent was the 2-seed No. 8-ranked Marquette University.

DALLAS, TEXAS – MARCH 29: DJ Horne #0 of the NC State Wolfpack blows a kiss toward fans of the Marquette Golden Eagles during the second half in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at American Airlines Center on March 29, 2024, in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

Underdogs once more, NC State dominated Marquette on the defensive end of the ball holding them to 33.3% shooting as a team and led by as much as 16 points en route to the 67-58 win.

Their winning streak now sits at eight games in a row with four consecutive wins against ranked opponents.

How did Duke get here?

Duke came into this season with sky-high expectations as the preseason No. 2-ranked team in the nation

Duke fell a bit short of their preseason expectations to be a likely one-seed, however, the Blue Devils still had a very successful season finishing second in the ACC and earning a 4-seed in the South Region of the bracket.

Duke found itself as a 2-seed in most mock bracket projections throughout the year, however, losses to Wake Forest, North Carolina and NC State in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals in the final weeks of the season have knocked them down to being a 4-seed.

The No. 13-ranked Blue Devils’ first two games were held in Brooklyn. They first battled the 13-seed University of Vermont in the first round on March 22.

Vermont kept the game close early but the Blue Devils ultimately pulled away to earn a comfortable 64-47 win.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MARCH 22: Tyrese Proctor #5 of the Duke Blue Devils heads for the net as Ileri Ayo-Faleye #0 of the Vermont Catamounts defends in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 22, 2024, in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

On March 24, Duke faced off against the 12-seed James Madison University Dukes for a chance to advance to the Sweet 16.

James Madison’s status as a 12-seed could be seen as a bit misleading as they boasted a 32-3 record on the season heading into the contest and were ranked as high as No. 19 in the country at one point.

James Madison also has two impressive wins on the season as they defeated then-No. 4 Michigan State University on the road in their very first game of the season.

UNC defeated Michigan State in the second round as well.

James Madison proved it can compete with big-time competition in its opening round game as they cruised to a 72-61 win over the 5-seed No. 23-ranked University of Wisconsin Badgers.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MARCH 24: Tyrese Proctor #5 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts during the second half of the game against the James Madison Dukes during the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 24, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Those accolades proved no match however as James Madison was dominated from the opening tip and the Blue Devils cruised to a 93-55 win.

Duke’s next opponent was a lofty one in the 1-seed No. 2-ranked University of Houston Cougars.

Houston has been ranked as no lower than No. 7 in the nation at any point in the season and peaked as the No. 1 team in the nation before losing to fellow Sweet 16 participant Iowa State University in the Big 12 Conference Tournament Championship Game.

As a second-ranked 1-seed, Houston was given the second choice of location for their side of the bracket and as a result, got to play in their home state of Texas in Dallas for this game.

Unfortunately for Houston, their All-American guard Jamal Shead injured his ankle late in the first half.

DALLAS, TEXAS – MARCH 29: Tyrese Proctor #5 and Jeremy Roach #3 of the Duke Blue Devils react during the second half against the Houston Cougars in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at American Airlines Center on March 29, 2024, in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

Duke capitalized on that and emerged victorious in a low-scoring defensive battle, winning 54-51.

How did the previous matchups go?

As mentioned before, Duke dominated in the first matchup between the two Tobacco Road rivals on March 4 in Raleigh.

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA – MARCH 4: Kyle Filipowski #30 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts following a basket during the second half of the game against the NC State Wolfpack at PNC Arena on March 4, 2024 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Duke won 79-64. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

NC State pounced on the Blue Devils early and raced out to a 9-0 lead in that game. However, it was all Duke from that point forward as the Blue Devils rallied to take a 33-30 lead into halftime and swelled their lead up to 16 in what ultimately resulted in a 79-64 Duke victory.

The Wolfpack famously won the rematch in Washington, D.C. on March 14 in the ACC Tournament Quarterfinals.

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 14: Mohamed Diarra #23 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack celebrates in the first half against the Duke Blue Devils in the Quarterfinals of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 14, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

NC State led for most of the tightly contested contest and ballooned their lead up to 10 points before ultimately walking away with the 74-69 victory.

What do the oddsmakers believe?

Duke is currently favored to win Sunday’s rubber match by 7 points, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.

That surely means little to NC State at this point as they have been underdogs in six of the eight games on their historic winning streak.

How to watch the game?

The game will tip off at around 5:05 p.m. on CBS.


Source: Fox 8 News Channel

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