Michael O’Connell’s miracle shot that made N.C. State’s Final Four run possible

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The shot will forever live in N.C. State lore, a banked-in 3-pointer that set a remarkable three weeks in motion. 

It was the ACC Tournament semifinals, before the Wolfpack would go on this remarkable run — from landing the ACC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament all the way to the Final Four, the program’s first appearance since 1983. 

Trailing Virginia 58-55 with the final seconds ticking away, Michael O’Connell of Chaminade High School and Mineola, L.I., received the pass in the backcourt from Casey Morsell and took off the other way, knowing the only way for N.C. State’s season to continue was, in his words, to make a play. 

N.C. State's Michael O’Connell
N.C. State’s Michael O’Connell Associated Press

The senior starting point guard did that all right. He sank a 3-pointer at the horn, giving the Wolfpack five more minutes.

They’ve certainly taken advantage of that opportunity, getting past the Cavaliers in overtime then topping North Carolina in the title game the following day.

The magic hasn’t stopped there. N.C. State has pulled off three major upsets in four of their tournament games — taking down No. 6 Texas Tech, No. 3 Marquette and No. 4 Duke. 

“I’ve seen it a good amount, it’s all over social media,” O’Connell said Thursday at State Farm Stadium, when asked about the shot. “When I see fans, they always bring it up to me. That’s kind of the common theme in conversations. Definitely pretty cool I was able to keep winning alive.

“I had a little space and room, and I just rose up and shot it. It went in. When you let it go, you’re sitting there waiting for it to go in. You’re not thinking you’re going to miss.” 

This will be N.C. State's first appearance since 1983. 
This will be N.C. State’s first appearance since 1983.  Getty Images

O’Connell has had a major role this run — averaging 6.5 points, 5.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds. He’s been an iron man, playing 156 of a possible 165 minutes.

In the Elite Eight shocker of Duke, he was brilliant — producing six points, 11 rebounds, six assists and just one turnover in 39 minutes. 

“It’s been phenomenal, the fact we were able to win the ACC championship and we’re still playing right now in this tournament,” he said. “It’s a dream come true, something you’ve been dreaming about as a kid. The fact we’re able to play in the Final Four and have a chance to win a championship, it’s an unbelievable experience.”

It’s been a circuitous journey for O’Connell, a star lacrosse player at Chaminade who was committed to play the sport at Maryland.

He wound up switching to basketball and attending Stanford instead.

After graduating last spring, he decided to enter the transfer portal, hoping to get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, and he liked the idea of returning to the East Coast at N.C. State, which was loading up with transfers.

The year did not go according to plan until the very end. Everything has gone right since. It, of course, would not be possible without O’Connell’s shot. 

“I’m still living it, so it’s hard to grasp the whole journey and what exactly has gone on,” he said. “After the season is done, I’ll be able to sit back and look back on it and enjoy it. But right now it’s a little surreal, so it’s hard to put into words.” 


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