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It’s a Tobacco Road showdown in Big D between Duke and N.C. State for a spot in the Final Four

DALLAS (AP) — Duke coach Jon Scheyer reached out to North Carolina State’s Kevin Keatts after the Wolfpack had won five games in as many days in the Athletic Coast Conference Tournament, including a win over the Blue Devils in the middle of that run.

“I was just so impressed,” Scheyer said Saturday. “I said I wish it didn’t happen against us, but that was a big-time run. … He’s got his guys playing the best basketball of the season.”

Now, only two weekends after that ACC tourney — which the 11th-seeded Wolfpack (25-14) had to win just to get into the 68-team NCAA Tournament field — N.C. State gets to play No. 4 seed Duke (27-8) again. At another neutral site, and this time for a spot in the Final Four.

The South Region final is Sunday in Dallas, about 1,200 miles from Tobacco Road where their campuses are within about a half-hour drive of each other.

“It’s really interesting for me, just you know being in March Madness where teams from all around the country are participating and then you, it’s not often that two teams from the same conference go head to head against one another, let alone two teams that are 30 minutes away from one another,” said Duke’s 7-foot center Kyle Filipowski. “It kind of provides a sense of familiarity just because you’ve went up against each other already.”

In their first meeting this year, the Blue Devils won 79-64 at N.C. State on March 4, part of the Wolfpack’s four-game losing streak to end the regular season and a 2-7 stretch since early February.

N.C. State was already playing its third game in the ACC tourney 10 days later, and won 74-69 over regular season runner-up Duke, which was playing its tournament opener.

“You can see their confidence and their togetherness continue to grow,” Scheyer said. “They’re much different than the first time we played them, and I think they’re even better than the last time we played them.”

The Wolfpack have an eight-game winning streak and are the last double-digit seed still playing, and they’re in their first Elite Eight since 1986.

Scheyer, in his second year as head coach, was part of Duke’s last two national titles — as a player in 2010 and as an assistant coach in 2015. He was also on staff when the Blue Devils made the Final Four two years ago in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final season.

Keatts, a former Division III player and prep school coach, is in his seventh season with N.C. State.

While Keatts wasn’t there for the Wolfpack’s national championships in 1974 and 1983, he constantly hears from the players from those teams — whether guys like David Thompson and Monte Towe from the first one 50 years ago, or Sidney Lowe, Thurl Bailey and players from the 1983 team coached by the late Jim Valvano that beat Houston right in the middle of its Phi Slama Jama era with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

N.C. State was close to facing Houston this time, but the Cougars lost All-America guard Jamal Shead to an ankle injury in the first half of their 54-51 loss to Duke in the other Sweet 16 game in Big D on Friday night, after the Wolfpack beat Marquette 67-58.

So the Wolfpack instead play one of their longest rivals the first time in the NCAA Tournament. This will be the 257th meeting in a series Duke leads 152-104.

“It all adds to this story and this run,” N.C. State guard Casey Morsell said.

“We’ve still been growing as a team, the chemistry has been growing and our confidence has been growing in each other,” guard Michael O’Connell said. “For us, it’s been a journey of growth.”

When the Blue Devils made it to the Final Four two years ago, they lost in the national semifinal to ACC rival North Carolina. That was the third meeting between those teams that season, but all those games were a month apart. Duke and N.C. State will play for the third time in 28 days.

“It feels different to me because there’s not such a long time in between, and two years ago there was,” Scheyer said. “There’s a lot more you can think about. There’s a lot more that can happen in between the two games that you play.”

And now there is a lot more at stake.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

By STEPHEN HAWKINS
AP Sports Writer

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