DALLAS – Last week, after DJ Burns led NC State into the Sweet 16 and became the darling of the NCAA Tournament, his coach Kevin Keatts joked that he could probably run for mayor of Raleigh and win.

By the time he and his Wolfpack teammates are through with their amazing, improbable run through the postseason, he might think seriously about expanding his reach and seeking an even higher office.

After winning over his local market for the past 2 seasons with his charismatic personality, dance moves and a super-sized body that helps him bulldoze defenders on his way to the basket, Burns has taken his show on the road to a national audience.

And his star is still on the rise.

Since the start of the postseason, he’s picked even more name, image and likeness endorsements – from national brands including Raising Canes, TurboTax and Manscape – as he has tournament Most Outstanding Player awards.

Of which he now has 2.

Burns collected the most recent one on Sunday after scoring a season-high 29 points in State’s 76-64 South Region final victory against ACC rival Duke at American Airlines Center. His dominant performance broke David Thompson’s 1974 school record for most points by a player in the Elite Eight or later while leading State to the Final Four for the 1st time in 41 years.

In the process, he further solidified his status as, in the words of a reporter during a frenzied postgame interview scrum outside the winning locker room, America’s new favorite player on America’s new favorite team.

A title Burns is reluctant to embrace.

“Honestly, we let the media label us whatever they want,” he said. “We just want to win.”

The Wolfpack, despite starting the NCAA Tournament at plus-10000 to reach the Final Four according to ESPN Bet sportsbook, has done a lot of that lately. They’ve won 9 straight since arriving in Washington DC nearly 3 weeks ago needing to win the ACC Tournament title just to get into the NCAA bracket.

Although virtually everyone on the roster has made a contribution to their team’s unlikely success, Burns has been the driving force behind the postseason surge.

He’s averaging 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and is shooting 66.7% during the Wolfpack’s Final Four run. Sunday’s performance, however, was anything but average.

It earned him love from fans and media members across the country, including familiar names such as Nikola Jokic, Russell Wilson and even former UNC Tar Heel Theo Pinson.

“We knew we had an advantage throwing the ball inside to him,” Keatts said of Burns.

State fed its super-sized big man early and often, daring Duke to try and stop him. But the Blue Devils never did, a fact that left their own star center Kyle Filipowski visibly flustered.

Some players can sense fear in the eyes of an opponent. For Burns on Sunday, the tell-tale sign could be seen in Filipowski’s body language.

And he wasted no time in taking advantage of it.

“(Filipowski) just doesn’t want to foul, so it makes it a little easier to get to the spots,” Burns said. “They depend on him a lot. So we had to go at him.”

Burns hit a pair of jumpers over Filipowski for his team’s 1st 2 baskets and never stopped attacking.

Although he lost a little of his rhythm after picking up a 2nd foul midway through the 1st half, he regrouped in the 2nd to continue terrorizing the Blue Devils.

Even as Burns was lighting the Blue Devils up for 21 of his season-high 29 points after halftime, they never made any adjustments in the way they defended him – a decision for which he was only too happy to make them pay.

“I was very surprised,” he said of Duke’s defensive strategy. “Coming out into the second half, I said if you’re not going to double team me, I’m just going to go at you.”

State shot 73.1% from the floor (19-of-26) as a team and outscored Duke 55-37 over the final 20 minutes.

Asked to explain why the Wolfpack was so efficient and productive, wing Casey Morsell answered simply: DJ Burns.

The State star is something of a unicorn because of the rare combination of size and skill he brings to the court. He’s got the wide-bodied physique of a professional wrestler and the nimble footwork of a dancer, to go along with a feathery soft left-handed shooting touch.

Even more of an anomaly is the fact that instead of intimidating his opponents with a menacing scowl, as is the case with many other dominant bigs, Burns does it with a wide, gap-toothed smile on his face and a skip in his step.

Proving that he’s truly a man of the people, he took time out on the way from the court to his team’s postgame locker room celebration to stop and thank a group of arena security guards and pose for pictures with him.

It’s the kind of gesture that comes naturally to him.

“I guess it’s how I was raised,” he said. “I was raised in a happy environment. I try to take that with me everywhere I go.”

Everywhere, including the Final Four. And he’s spreading the joy to all those long-suffering State fans he’s taking along with him on the ride.