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The Comeback Kids: BAE Faculty Reflect on NC State Basketball’s ACC Win.

Written by Olivia Rogers

A full circle moment doesn’t happen often, but it can be very satisfying when it does. In 1987 NC State’s Men’s basketball team beat the odds and won the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) under Jimmy “V” Valvano. For 37 years NC State has gone without an ACC title. Despite this, Wolfpack basketball still has many loyal fans.   


In the department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering you can find many NC State fans roaming the halls. Bill Hunt, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished University Professor and Extension Specialist, remembers watching the game in 1987. “I remember watching Carolina miss two shots near the bucket as time expired, and seeing Vinny Del Negro grab the final rebound,” he says. “We won that game by 1 point.” 


The Memorial Belltower after the 2024 ACC win. Photo taken by Sealey Sessions.

Michael Burchell, BAE professor and department extension leader, was accepted to NC State in the fall of 1987. He says, “I was a State fan but not quite at the level I grew up to be.” He remembers the 1987 game fondly. He says, “The 1987 win, though exciting and from an underdog team that was sixth in the ACC, was really only great at the time because we beat UNC.” 

While watching the conference throughout the week, Hunt says he could feel the tides shift. “I went to Amedeo’s with my oldest son, Bill, to watch the second half of State’s win over Syracuse,” says Hunt. “We played so well in that half, that Bill asked me if I thought State could win the whole tournament.” He told his son “if we played like that, we absolutely could.”


Burchell says, “This team played with a steadiness I had not seen in some time.” He explains that the players seemed to be having a great time on the court. He says, “The players were laughing, smiling and having a great time as if there was no pressure on them.”   


Grant Ellington, Extension Associate Professor, has been a State fan since he was a kid. He says after beating Duke he had a feeling that State had a chance of winning the whole thing. “When O’Connell hit the winning shot against Virginia, I jumped up yelling and my oldest son had to come check on me,” says Ellington. “I told my son that the shot happened for a reason and we might win the tournament.” 

Bill Hunt with friends and family after the 2024 ACC win.


This year, NC State finally brought the ACC title back to Raleigh. The team beat UNC by eight points. After a game with so many parallels to the 1987 game, it’s hard to deny that it was satisfying for many Wolfpack fans. “My second oldest son, Joseph, is the same age as I was when we won in 1987,” Hunt says. “It was such a joy to take him, his buddy and my other two sons to the Belltower to celebrate on Saturday night.” He explains that in 1987 he wore a “loud” red State shirt to school after the game and met many disappointed Tar Heel fans. Hunt says, “This past Monday, I was proud to wear multiple items of NC State gear again.” This time, he went for “a more professional look.” 


Fans are ready to watch the Wolfpack play Texas Tech in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament. Burchell says, “When we beat Duke, I wore the same shorts, NC State shirt and NC State pullover for the rest of the tournament.” Keeping to his superstitions, Burchell says he has “the same outfit unwashed and ready to go for the first round of the NCAAs this Thursday.” He hopes that will help lift the “specter that has hung over NC State Basketball since the 1990 season.”


The recent win brought the Wolfpack together. It helped reconnect old friends. Hunt says, “This whole run really reconnected State fans across time and distance.” This win brought him in contact with old college roommates, students and colleagues. “The way State won, the teams they had to beat, if ever there was a path to exorcise Wolfpack demons this was it,” he says. “We’re champions again, and it feels great.”