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  • Writer's pictureMichael Davis

Road to Phoenix Stops in Dallas




Photos by Michael Davis, Stadium Journey

 

The NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament, better known as March Madness, returned to Dallas, Texas in March 2024. The games were played at the American Airlines Center, home of the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars. The American Airlines Center is not new to the NCAA basketball tournament, as just last season, the NCAA Women’s Final Four was played at the site. This year, the Dallas venue hosted the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight portions of the South Regional.


The Sweet Sixteen portion was played on Friday, March 29th, where a single ticket allowed you to watch both games. The first game that night was the # 2 seeded Marquette Golden Eagles, from the Big East, versus a Cinderella story in the making, in the # 11 seeded North Carolina State Wolfpack, representing the Atlantic Coast Conference – the Wolfpack entered this season’s tournament on an unforeseen run by winning the ACC championship.


Although the attendance for this match up was announced at 18,751, the crowd was more like 9,000, with a lot of the seats empty for most of the game. The Marquette and NC State fans, however, filled their portions of the arena, and were loud and kept the energy in the building. NC State started fast and was up 20-10 at one point, though Marquette keep fighting back to make the game interesting, but never did take a lead in the game; the Wolfpack advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1986, by knocking off # 2 Marquette 67-58.


The nightcap featured the # 1 seed Houston Cougars, from the host Big 12 conference, versus the # 4 seed Duke Blue Devils, and the American Airlines Center filled up to capacity for this matchup. The Houston fans traveled 4 hours along I-45 in hopes that this would be their year, with their Houston Cougars returning to the Final Four. Meanwhile the Duke fans came from all over, as Duke is one of the most popular teams in college basketball.



Houston started out with an 8-0 run, and looked dominant, until an unfortunate 4-degree ankle sprain injury to Houston’s All-American point guard Jamal Snead, in the first half with 6:38 remaining, with Houston leading 16-10 at the time. After Snead left, the Duke Blue Devils saw and took the opportunity – Duke went into halftime with a 1-point lead. Houston’s defense kept the game close in the second half but looked lost at times without Snead on the floor, the result being a Duke 54-51 victory. The evening’s results set up an all-ACC Elite Eight game on Easter Sunday, March 31st.


Houston’s loss had me wondering how the atmosphere and attendance would be for the Elite Eight game. Usually the higher seed fans, such as Houston in this case, leave town after the loss, meaning a less than filled arena for the next game. However, the NC State fans returned, the Duke fans multiplied, and other fans who just wanted to see a great matchup showed up; all three groups combined to come out and fill the arena. In fact, according to one source this game was the most watched Elite Eight game in the past 5 years.



The teams put on a display of talent and heart during the game. Duke took the first half lead 27-21, after keeping NC State’s DJ Burns on the bench with early foul trouble. The second half was the DJ Burns, DJ Horne, and Wolfpack show, however, as the Wolfpack offense seemed to score at will, while the defense made stop after stop and forced Duke’s star Kyle Filipowski to foul out of the game. NC State’s Cinderella story thus continued, as NC State knocked off Duke 76-64.


NC State’s storied run in this year’s tournament is drawing comparisons to one their own greatest March Madness runs, when the 1983 NC State Wolfpack won the National Championship against Houston’s Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon’s phi slamma jamma squad, which is the last time an NC State team has gone to the Final Four.


The road ends this weekend in Phoenix’s State Farm Stadium; the Dallas winner is scheduled to play the Midwest region top seed Purdue Boilermakers from the Big Ten Conference, while the other game will be top ranked Connecticut vs Alabama. Will NC State’s Cinderella story continue? I, myself, can only hope after watching them in Dallas – the odds are against them, but then again, the NCAA tournament is called March Madness for a reason.

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