ARIZONA STATE BASKETBALL

Back to Arizona: DJ Horne helps lead NC State to Final Four after ASU transfer

Apr 1, 2024, 7:47 AM | Updated: 12:27 pm

DJ Horne of NC State...

DJ Horne #0 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack reacts during the second half of the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Duke Blue Devils at American Airlines Center on March 31, 2024 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

DALLAS (AP) — DJ Horne got a chance to play at home when he transferred to North Carolina State this season after starting for two other schools. Big body DJ Burns Jr. wasn’t really sure how things were going to play out when he put his name into the transfer portal two years ago.

Now the two DJs are going to the Final Four together with a Wolfpack team that hadn’t been there in four decades.

“It usually takes like a day to set in, honestly,” Burns said in the locker room after their 76-64 victory Sunday over Tobacco Road rival Duke in the South Region final. “With all this stuff, even the ACC thing, it takes a second.”

For a team that plays a lot of rap songs and loud gospel music in the locker room, maybe it’s only fitting to have a pair of grad transfers named DJ having such an impact on the court.

The 6-foot-9, 275-pound Burns is a bruising forward with some slick moves who will bang inside with big men like Duke’s 7-foot sophomore Kyle Filipowski — and next has to face 7-4 All-American Zach Edey when N.C. State (26-14) plays Purdue in the national semifinals Saturday in Glendale, Arizona. But the left-handed Burns also has the soft touch to finish shots, whether layups or swishing short and mid-range jumpers.

“Great touch, great footwork,” coach Kevin Keatts said. “It’s changed the way I look at post guys now. … I don’t know how you guard him. I’m excited, and I hope nobody figures that out.”

Then there is Horne, whose 103 made 3-pointers this season are one shy of matching N.C. State’s single-season record. The guard from Raleigh began his college career with two seasons at Illinois State before the last two at Arizona State.

“Coach gave me an opportunity to come back home and play basketball, and the confidence that he instills in me every day allows me to go out there and do what I do,” Horne said.

Burns played three years at Winthrop before getting to N.C. State, and together with Horne makes the Wolfpack one of only four teams in the country with a pair of 2,000-point career scorers on their roster this season. The others were Illinois and Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season champion and West Region top seed North Carolina — teams that also made it to at least the Sweet 16 — and Wright State.

Even with the most losses ever by a Final Four team, the Wolfpack are back on college basketball’s biggest stage for the first time since the late Jim Valvano was sprinting around the court looking for someone to hug after winning the 1983 national title with an upset over Houston and Phi Slama Jama.

They got there after Burns had a season-high 29 points on 13-of-19 shooting against Duke, and Horne scored 20 points.

After Burns was held to only four points in the Sweet 16 win over top-seeded Houston, though he had a season-high seven assists, he hit short jumpers on the Wolfpack’s first two shots in the regional final. He had eight points in the game’s first nine minutes before his second foul, and didn’t score again until their first possession after halftime — and made 9 of 11 shots after halftime.

Burns was putting on such a show that Nuggets center Nikola Jokic was delayed getting to his postgame interview after the two-time NBA MVP had a triple-double in Denver’s 130-101 win at home over Cleveland on Sunday. He had just finished with 26 points, 18 rebounds and 16 assists, but was awed watching N.C. State’s big man on TV.

“Really? Yeah for sure, he dunks a lot more from me but he also shoots 3s way better than me,” Burns said. “But as far as post moves and everything we have a similar game. So I won’t say all of our game is the same, but specifically from a post aspect.”

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