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Wolfpack's balance fails at wrong time in Final Four power outage vs. Purdue


GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — North Carolina State's miraculous late-season run to the Atlantic Coast Conference title and an even more improbable Final Four trip had been the product of a blending of talent, balance and cohesion when the pressure peaked.

Unfortunately for the Wolfpack, it all came undone in a nightmarish second half against Purdue in the national semifinals.

The offense that had consistently produced double-figure scorers to support DJ Burns Jr. inside and DJ Horne on the perimeter just never got into a shot-making flow. Layups rolled off the rim. Outside shots clanged away harmlessly. And outside of Horne, no one found anything approaching a rhythm.

It ended with the Wolfpack shooting just 28.6% while scoring 21 second-half points to fall to the Boilermakers 63-50 on Saturday night.

“Some of the shots we normally make we didn’t make in the game. It sort of got away from us,” Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts said

Horne finished with 20 points but needed 21 shots to get there. No other Wolfpack player reached double figures until Jayden Taylor's 3-pointer with 42 seconds left and N.C. State trailing by 16.

By that point, it was clear the Wolfpack's first Final Four appearance since 1983 would not lead to a repeat of the surprise run to the national championship by the “Cardiac Pack” in 1983.

The 6-foot-9, 275-pound Burns struggled all night between fouls and battling the length of 7-foot-4 two-time national player of the year Zach Edey. After becoming a March Madness star and scoring 29 points in a regional final against Duke, Burns had just eight points on 4-for-10 shooting while pulling down just one rebound and battling some foul issues.

Worse, Michael O'Connell — the steady Stanford transfer who had been a critical piece in the run with his 3-point shooting — came up grabbing his left hamstring after taking a first-half tumble. He spent long stretches riding an exercise bike trying to loosen it up at the end of the bench, then checked in for one 3 1/2-minute stretch after halftime — his left thigh heavily wrapped — and took just one shot (a made 3) all night.

It was a sign of how things were out of sync for N.C. State, who also saw starting wing Casey Morsell go scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting after averaging 11.5 points coming in.

By the end of the night, Taylor was firing a meaningless 3-pointer on the final possession as the seconds ticked away. The ball hit long, sealing the worst scoring game of the season for N.C. State.


AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness