College Hoops

In dominating Duke, DJ Burns Jr. finds March Madness stardom during NC State’s unlikely Final Four run

In dominating Duke, DJ Burns Jr. finds March Madness stardom during NC State's unlikely Final Four run

DALLAS – NC State center DJ Burns Jr. skipped onto the floor armed with an ear-to-ear grin as he led the Wolfpack out for warmups to prepare to take down Duke Sunday in the Elite Eight. More than two hours later, Burns was skipping and smiling again as he checked out of the game after his and-one put rival Duke on the ropes. In between his pregame jubilation and the final horn, he orchestrated an iconic March Madness performance to guide No. 11 seed NC State to a 76-64 win sending NC State to its first Final Four since 1983.

Burns led NC State with 29 points on 13-of-19 shooting along with three assists and four rebounds. And as the game wore on and as the stakes grew higher, the burly Burns got better and more difficult to defend. With every circus turnaround shot and runner that dropped, he gathered more confidence and the look in his eye grew brighter. He finished the second half 9-of-11 shooting and destroyed Duke’s defense with 21 points in the most polite way possible. 

“We knew we had an advantage throwing the ball inside to [DJ],” said NC State coach Kevin Keatts, who became the school’s first coach since Jim Valvano to lead the Pack into the Final Four. “They decided, which some teams do, not to double-team him, and obviously he shot 13 for 19 and had 29 points.”

It was Burns who set the tone for NC State on Sunday in its stunning upset of ACC rival and crosstown foe Duke in their first-ever NCAA Tournament matchup and it was Burns who was ultimately the most responsible for sending Duke packing. He scored a mid-range bucket to open the game. He gave Duke big man Kyle Filipowski a forearm shiver moments later for another basket. Then in the second half, he found another gear and threw the Pack on his back.

A one-handed runner from Burns with 4:19 remaining in the game put NC State up 14 points and gave him 23 points on the day, after which all he could do was – what else? – smile. 

“He’s just a fun-loving, people person who loves having fun and enjoys life,” his dad, Dwight Sr., told CBS Sports after the game. “He was raised to enjoy life. He just loves the game. This is all just fun for him.” 

Even in one of the most high stakes NCAA Tournament games in program history, Burns was enjoying the moment.

“I was raised in a happy environment,” Burns said. “I try to take that with me everywhere I go.”

NC State’s unlikely run to the NCAA Tournament and…

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