GLENDALE, Ariz. – Today’s the day, Wolfpack fans. The day you’ve long waited for.

Some of you for your entire lives.

It’s the day you always hoped would come. But feared you might never live to see.

After wandering through the desert of frustration and heartbreak watching Triangle rivals North Carolina and Duke cut down nets and raise banners for the past 41 years – one longer than Moses and the Israelites wandered through an actual desert – the NC State men’s basketball team has finally reached the promised land.

Appropriately enough, in a football stadium plopped down in the heart of the desert Southwest.

When Kevin Keatts and his band of impossible dreamers tip off against Purdue at 6:09 pm EDT in the 1st of 2 national semifinals at State Farm Stadium, it will mark the 1st time the Wolfpack has appeared in a Final Four since Lorenzo Charles dunked home that wayward heave of a “pass” from Dereck Whittenburg to beat Houston for the national championship.

This State team is almost as big a longshot as that 1983 Cardiac Pack. ESPN Bet sportsbook has it set as an 8.5-point underdog. And even if the Wolfpack beats the Boilermakers tonight, they’ll still have to climb an even bigger mountain on Monday in order to bring home their program’s 3rd title.

But as an old philosopher once said, you can’t win 2 games in a weekend if you don’t win the 1st. Or in State’s case, you can’t win the 11th in this postseason if you don’t win the 10th.

So here we go.

Who could have possibly imagined just 26 days ago, even in their wildest dream, that the Wolfpack would be one of the last 4 teams still playing college basketball this season?

They trailed by 12 midway through the 1st half of their ACC Tournament opener against lowly Louisville and looked headed for a 5th straight loss to end the season. At that point, Keatts was closer to becoming a coaching casualty than an NC State coaching legend.

Even Syracuse’s curmudgeonly former coach Jim Boeheim couldn’t resist the urge to take a potshot at the Wolfpack.

But momentum doesn’t happen all at once. It has to build, like a gathering thunderhead and gain speed like a ball rolling down a hill just out of the reach of a chasing child before hitting full stride like a sprinter racing toward the finish line.

For State, that moment took place with 5.3 seconds remaining in regulation of an ACC semifinal when, down by 3 and facing almost certain elimination, Virginia’s Isaac McKneeley missed what would have been a clinching free throw.

“We’ve still got life,” Casey Morsell remembered feeling at the moment. “That’s it, we still have life.”

The rest is history.

Morsell rebounded the miss and passed ahead to teammate Michael O’Connell. Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett failed to use any of the 3 fouls he had left to give. And O’Connell banked home a 3-pointer that extended the game, extended the Wolfpack’s season and ignited one of the most incredible postseason runs ever in college basketball.

A prayer that after decades of going unheard was finally answered. The final death knell to the curse known as #NCStateStuff.

“It was a Hail Mary,” Morsell said. “We knew once it went into overtime there was no way we were losing. Not just that game, but any other game in the tournament.”

And so far, they haven’t.

So what’s it going to take to keep that streak going?

Keep doing what they’ve been doing, for one thing. Play smart and don’t turn the ball over. Defend with an aggressiveness and intensity that would make Payton Wilson proud. Rebound. And have somebody, it doesn’t matter who, step up to help the 2 DJs carry the scoring load.

That takes care of controlling the controllables.

It will also help if the 3 officials assigned to work tonight’s game swallow their whistles and allow the 2 star attractions – State’s DJ Burns and Purdue’s 2-time National Player of the Year Zach Edey – to battle one another on the court for 40 minutes rather than having 1 or both sitting on the bench for half that time.

Doing so won’t favor either big man or his team. But it will let the players decide the game. And the way State’s players have been playing these past 26 days, you’d have to like their chances.

But no matter what happens, those players – DJ Burns and DJ Horne, Morsell, O’Connell, Mohamed Diarra, Ben Middlebrooks and the others – will have earned a rightful place among the Wolfpack’s most beloved stars.

They’ve taken you on a ride that you never saw coming and you’ll never forget.
So buy as many t-shirts as you like. Make as many memories as you can. Savor the moment for all that it’s worth.

The day you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived.

And you never know when or if it will come around again.