NC State muscles into Sweet 16

North Carolina State’s DJ Burns, Jr. (30) and Ben Middlebrooks (34) celebrate after defeating Oakland in a second-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament Saturday, March 23, 2024, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Matt Freed)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — DJ Burns Jr. scored 24 points, including a go-ahead putback that ignited a 9-0 run in overtime, and 11th-seeded North Carolina State beat 14th-seeded Oakland 79-73 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.

Powered by their versatile 6-foot-9, 275-pound forward, the Wolfpack (24-14) advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015 by finally pulling away from 3-point specialist Jack Gohlke and the Golden Grizzlies (24-12) in the extra period.

N.C. State will face either second-seeded Marquette and 10th-seeded Colorado in Dallas on Friday in the South Region semifinals.

Michael O’Connell had 12 points for the Wolfpack. DJ Horne and Casey Morsell added 11 apiece. Jayden Taylor came off the bench in overtime to hit a 3-pointer that put N.C. State ahead by five.

Oakland, which ousted third-seeded Kentucky on Thursday, just missed becoming the first 14 seed to reach the Sweet 16 since Chattanooga in 1997.

Trey Townsend, the Horizon League Player of the Year, had 30 points and 13 rebounds for the Golden Grizzlies. Gohlke, who made 10 3-pointers against Kentucky, poured in six more 3s and finished with 22 points.

Oakland’s chances evaporated in the final minutes when the Grizzlies missed 10 of their last 11 shots, leaving coach Greg Kampe stuck on 699 wins until next season, his 41st with the program.

N.C. State, on the outside of the tournament bubble before winning the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament title last week, will play on.

The Wolfpack led most of the game but couldn’t quite shake the Horizon League champions, who insisted they could go further after their first-round win.

Townsend put Oakland in front for the first time with a three-point play with 2:49 to go in regulation, setting up a taut finish that had most of the fans inside a packed PPG Paints Arena pulling for the Golden Grizzlies.

That group included Oakland President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, who watched from the front row while holding a prop Cinderella-style glass slipper.

It didn’t quite fit.

Oakland had a chance at a last-second shot only to turn it over with 1.3 seconds to go. Morsell’s heave from just beyond half court hit the backboard and the front of the rim before falling away.

Gohlke had a star-making turn in Thursday night’s upset of Kentucky. But Burns, too, has been a fan favorite of late, thanks to his under-the-basket game predicated on footwork and a soft left-handed touch around the basket.

Burns’ star peaked during the Wolfpack’s run to the ACC Tournament title last week, where he was named MVP after N.C. State ripped off five wins in five days to earn an automatic March Madness berth and ease the temperature under coach Kevin Keatts’ seat.

N.C. State breezed past sixth-seeded Texas Tech in the first round and looked comfortable playing the favorite, a rarity during its postseason run.

The Wolfpack never trailed during the first half, using their size advantage to dominate the paint.

Yet Gohlke and the Golden Grizzlies hung around. The former Division II standout, who in 48 hours after stunning the Wildcats popped up on national televisionhit full-court shots in practice and had his face splashed on merchandise, knocked down his first 3-point attempt and then added two more to keep Oakland within striking distance, down just 32-29 at the break.