Mar 27, 2024 - News

N.C. State fan base reinvigorated by 'magic ' March basketball run

N.C. State standout DJ Burns Jr., No. 30, celebrates with Casey Morsell, No. 14, after a basket in overtime against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies during the second round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament. Photo: Justin Berl/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Since 1967, Gus Gusler has been watching N.C. State games at Players Retreat — a legendary bar near the school's campus he now owns.

  • But he can't recall the bar ever reaching the fever pitch it did last Saturday night when the Wolfpack clinched a berth to the Sweet 16 in overtime against Oakland and thousands of fans rushed the bell tower on Hillsborough Street.

"I have never seen anything like it," Gusler said, noting his bar had its highest-grossing sales night ever on Saturday. "There's magic out there right now. Let's just hope we can keep in it."

Why it matters: For Wolfpack fans, this month's triumph in the ACC Tournament and the subsequent ride into the Sweet 16 has reinvigorated a basketball fan base that had gone from swaggering to cynical.

  • After a multigenerational slump, which saw the Wolfpack go from a dominant force in the ACC in the '70s and '80s to falling behind — a win over archrival UNC in the ACC Tournament felt like the end of a bleak period and the start of something new.

The big picture: N.C. State is this year's NCAA Tournament Cinderella story, winning five straight games in five days (a feat only done once before) to win its first ACC title in 37 years — and then two more to get to the Sweet 16.

  • It has many reminiscing about 1983, when the "Cardiac Pack" went wire-to-wire as underdogs in the ACC Tournament and then to the national championship.

Between the lines: Joe Ovies, of the Raleigh sports podcast "Ovies & Giglio," even went as far to say that the Wolfpack had "stuffed the stuff" — a reference to many State fans collective belief that some form of bad luck would always strike the Pack right when they were on the verge of glory.

What they're saying: "I think a lot of us Wolfpack fans … feel that we're forever cursed" since the school dismissed legendary coach Jim Valvano in 1990, Gusler told Axios. "If there is a curse, maybe this is what's going to lift it."

What's next: Come Friday night, Players Retreat is going to be packed again — even if the NCAA scheduling both the Wolfpack men's and women's teams to play at the same time has the fan base once again mad at the NCAA.

  • But State fans will once again relish the opportunity to keep this magical run going — especially against Marquette, a team they beat 50 years ago in the national championship game.
  • "It's been difficult to be a State fan. We're not called the Cardiac Pack for nothing," Gusler said. "If we win this game Friday night, which I hope we're going to win and I think we will, It will be a Cardiac Pack night going down to the last shot."
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