Busting Brackets

Kevin Keatts reflects on NC State's remarkable run after loss to Purdue

Kevin Keatts spoke to the media about NC State's unexpected Final Four run following Saturday's loss to Purdue in Phoenix.
NC State v Purdue
NC State v Purdue / Jamie Squire/GettyImages

NC State's improbable run through the postseason finally came to an end on Saturday night with a 63-50 loss to Purdue in the Final Four. It was the first time the Wolfpack had lost since the final game of the regular season on March 9th.

After NC State's 9-game winning streak was snapped, head coach Kevin Keatts spoke to the media and reflected on what his team accomplished.

"I don't know that I could be more prouder of a group of men that I've ever coached in my life," he said. "Adversity, you name it, situations, you name it, hard times, you name it. They found a way to win the ACC, they found a way to make it to the Final Four.

"We're going to leave out of here because Purdue won the game, but we'll walk out of here with our heads up as champions because of what we've been able to provide.

"The memories that these guys have created for NC State basketball, but more importantly for theirselves, for the rest of their lives. These guys are champions, ACC champions. So I'm proud of 'em."

One of the turning points in the loss was the hamstring injury to Michael O'Connell in the first half. Though the senior guard tried to play through the injury, he was ineffective and Keatts admitted that the loss of his team's leading creator was impactful.

"Well, when Michael's injury occurred," he said, "it definitely changed us. It made under the circumstances go back to Horne handling the ball a little bit more than we wanted to. I thought Breon came in and did a good job for us. That being said, we've been playing seven or eight guys, one of your key guys go down, it changes a lot. He's our leading assist guy, so we didn't really have anyone that could create for someone else."

With eight players set to depart the program this offseason, Keatts has his work cut out to maintain NC State's success. He was asked if he thought he could repeat this magical run.

"I think if you can get five new guys, or in my case eight new guys," he said, "to blend in with the guys who are returning, I think you got something there. It takes a little longer.

"It's so much work to the chemistry both on and off the court to get here. They have to trust. They've got to believe. They've got to believe in the staff. Most time when you get a lot of transfers, they come in as independent contractors. If you can get them to work for the company, being NC State, playing for NC State, then it usually works out in your favor.

"We were able to do this. There are some teams that have just as many transfers as we have, but were not able to connect the way we did.

"The way we connected is unbelievable. Like, if you had a chance to hang around with these guys all day, you'd be like, Man, these guys are fantastic. I mean, we went about our business, but we had fun. They genuinely liked each other and wanted to see each other be successful."

Keatts then addressed the attention that his program has received becuase of this March Madness run. He said he hopes that it helps showcase what has been built at NC State.

"I hope people understand that we have a heck of a basketball program," he said. "We play a unique style. We've got a great culture.

"What's not talked about enough is we had five teams in the last couple of years get in the tournament. We're one that's been two years in a row. It's almost forgotten because we didn't make a run last year. This is back-to-back NCAA tournaments where our league is so good and we're not getting the respect that we deserve. In two years, we've got five, we've been one of the five a couple years.

"I think the run will help. People understanding this. But it's also special for graduates, the current student body, folks that remember the great one with '83. When you sit back and look at what we've done, man, you're going to be amazed at it.

"This doesn't happen every day. How many people do you know finish their run at 9-1, winning nine games, then obviously losing the last one? I think before this, the only other team that had won more games than us was UConn."