Hallie Walker | Staff Photographer
An ACC Tournament celebration reel plays at the Selection Sunday watch party in Sports & Social on Sunday, March 17, 2024. NC State landed the No. 11 seed in the South Region in the NCAA Tournament.

Up until March 12, NC State Men’s Basketball had a less than ideal season. With a total of 22 wins and 14 losses in the regular season, and only nine of those wins coming from their own conference, the team was not even close to getting a spot in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament. The only way that they could secure a seat in the tournament was if they won the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) tournament. Each conference’s champion is allotted a guaranteed spot in the NCAA tournament, regardless of their regular season record. With their 10th seed ranking and ACC record of nine wins and 11 losses, the odds were stacked against them. But nevertheless, the team persisted and they headed out to Washington, D.C. to get down to business.

Round 1: Louisville

Going into this round NC State was favored to win over the No. 15 seed, Louisville. The team had played Louisville once during the regular season, at their home court, and were able to beat them 89-83. Unfortunately, in the last regular season game, star player DJ Horne injured his hip flexor. Although he traveled to D.C. with the team, he was not in uniform during warm-up which meant that he was out for the game. Luckily, even without Horne, the team was able to take down Louisville with a score of 94-85. Casey Morsell held down the fort, wracking up 25 points, with Jayden Taylor and Michael O’Connell following closely behind with 18 and 16 points, respectively.

Round 2: Syracuse

Horne was back and the team was ready to take on the No. 7 seed, Syracuse. During the regular season, NC State went up against Syracuse at home and away, losing both games by a decent margin. Based on their performance during the first round, they were looking better than before, so there was still hope. With 14 rebounds and six assists, Mohamed Diarra helped the team secure an 83-65 victory. But Diarra wasn’t the only one putting up good numbers during this game. Horne, Taylor, O’Connell and Burns all had between 15-18 points, showing off NC State’s well-rounded team of shooters. O’Connell made all three of his three-point shots, boosting his confidence and setting him in motion for the rest of this tournament.

Round 3: Duke

This is the game is where NC State fans thought their ACC tournament journey would end, as Duke is one of the team’s main rivals. NC State only played them once during the regular season; however, despite playing at home, the team still lost by 15 points. Duke entered the tournament at the number two seed and bypassed the first two rounds. Unfortunately for them, this was their first and last game of the ACC tournament. During this game, Horne, Morsell, O’Connell, Diarra and DJ Burns Jr. scored double-digit points, making them the first team of five double-digit scorers to move on to the ACC tournament semifinals since 2014. But that wasn’t the only record NC State set with this win. This was the second time in ACC history that a double-digit seed made it to the semifinals. Who did it the first time, you might ask? NC State did in 2007. Even still, they weren’t done setting records.

Semifinal: Virginia

During the regular season NC State went one-and-one with Virginia, beating them by a substantial margin at home and barely losing during overtime at the away game. Although the game went back and forth for a while, it didn’t look good for NC State. The team was down by seven points with four minutes left, and the difference wasn’t shrinking as the minutes ticked off the clock. But thanks to Morsell, and a Virginia foul, the team cut the margin to three points. That is where O’Connell came in. Sinking a buzzer-beater from right in front of the bench where his teammates sat, O’Connell tied up the score and sent the game into overtime. From there, Burns took over. During overtime Burns knocked down layup after layup, drawing fouls and making shots. Virginia couldn’t keep up. Finishing off overtime with a score of 73-65, NC State headed off to the championship game.

Championship: UNC

Nobody thought NC State would make it this far, especially not UNC’s basketball team. As the number one team in the division who beat NC State twice during the regular season, UNC expected to wipe the floor with NC State. But as much as UNC hates to admit it, that was not the case. Keeping the lead for almost the entire game, the Wolfpack defeated the Tar Heels 84 to 76. Horne put up 29 points before fouling out in the final minutes, Burns scored a cool 20 points and Diarra got a career high 14 rebounds.

After the championship game, the ACC released their picks for the All-Tournament Team. Burns, Horne and O’Connell made up three of the five players on the first team, with Diarra coming in on the second team.

Speaking of Diarra: he set the record for most rebounds for a single player during the ACC tournament with a whopping 60 total rebounds over the course of the five games.

Winning any championship title is a big deal, but this was more than that for the Wolfpack. It has been 37 years since NC State last won the ACC tournament. But that isn’t even the craziest part of all of this: Winning this game made it NC State’s 11th Championship title, making them the team with the third-most ACC Championships. This was the second time, including all conferences, that a team won five straight games to win their conference title. NC State became the lowest seed to ever win the ACC Championship. Burns made his first career three-point basket. Lastly, and most importantly, winning the ACC Championship gave NC State an otherwise nonexistent spot in the NCAA Tournament.

The team came back home to Raleigh on March 17. at around three in the morning, welcomed by a huge crowd and the band playing Red and White. The players gave speeches, took photos and chatted with the fans before a well-deserved day off to prepare themselves for the NCAA Tournament. So, in the words of DJ Horne, “Why not us?”