03/07/05 — Paul leads No. 4 Wake Forest over N.C. State

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Paul leads No. 4 Wake Forest over N.C. State

By Neil Fuller
Published in Sports on March 7, 2005 2:51 PM

RALEIGH -- Chris Paul doesn't mind being the most-hated man in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Not as long as his team leaves town with a win.

And certainly not if his team ends up with a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

Paul hit a 12-foot runner as time expired Sunday night as the fourth-ranked Demon Deacons closed out their regular-season schedule with a 55-53 victory over N.C. State at the RBC Center.

"My stomach is still tight," Paul said. "I still can't believe the shot went in."

Not many did during the second half for Wake Forest.

The Demon Deacons (26-4, 13-3 ACC) had to overcome an abysmal 28.6-percent (6-of-21) shooting performance from the field over the final 20 minutes to position themselves as a likely top seed in the NCAA tournament.

Wake Forest entered the day with a chance to be the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament later in the week -- only to have that hope dashed when North Carolina defeated Duke 75-73 in Chapel Hill.

Yet motivation proved to be no problem.

"We were definitely hoping Duke could give us some help," admitted Paul, who finished with more turnovers (7) than assists (6). "We looked at this game as trying to give ourselves momentum heading into the ACC tournament and hopefully a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

"This game went down to the wire, and we're just so thankful to come out of here with the win."

Fifth-seeded N.C. State (17-12, 7-9) will face No. 10 seed Florida State on Thursday in the opening round of the ACC tournament at the MCI Center in Washington. Wake Forest has a bye and will meet the winner between the Wolfpack and Seminoles.

Justin Gray had 15 points and six rebounds to lead three Wake Forest players in double-figure scoring. Vytas Danelius scored 12 points, and Eric Williams added 11 points and a game-high seven rebounds.

The Wolfpack shot 40.9 percent (18-of-44) from the field. The Demon Deacons are now 25-0 when holding the opposition to under 50 percent.

Paul drew the ire of most of the 19,082 in attendance with 12:48 remaining in the first half after landing what appeared to be a punch to the groin of N.C. State star Julius Hodge.

"The replay is going to have to speak for me tonight," Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek said of the incident -- which Paul denied was intentional.

A 9-of-22 showing at the free-throw line turned out to be an even bigger blow to N.C. State, however. The poor foul shooting helped negate eight 3-pointers.

Ilian Evtimov led N.C. State with 19 points and was 5-of-8 from 3-point range.

Wake Forest led by as many as 11 points late in the first half and carried a 35-28 advantage into the break.

"We got a lot of good looks at some 3s, but our biggest problem was missed free throws," Sendek said. "I told my guys that I am extremely proud of them. They literally poured their guts out tonight. We played the best defense that any team has played this season.

"It is just heartbreaking to not be able to reward them for that with a win."

The Demon Deacons entered the game averaging over 86 points per contest.

N.C. State -- playing like a team desperate to improve its NCAA chances -- opened the second half on 15-5 run. Evtimov capped the spurt with a 3 to give the Wolfpack a 42-40 lead with 10:05 remaining.

Now N.C. State will have to sweat out Selection Sunday as the Demon Deacons remain optimistic about that No. 1 seed.

"State is a national tournament-caliber team," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said. "Each time we play, it's always a challenge. They are a well-coached group, and they really played well tonight."

Evtimov put matters a little more plainly.

"It's like somebody stole our lunch money," the junior forward said.

N.C. State had won four of its previous five games coming in.

Notes: Wake Forest can break the school record for single-season victories with a win in the ACC quarterfinals on Friday. ... Hodge finished with eight points and four assists in his final home game. ... Paul scored nine points. ... Wake Forest outscored N.C. State 24-18 in the post. ... N.C. State senior Jordan Collins suffered a separated shoulder during the second half. The 6-foot-10 center is questionable for the ACC tournament. ... N.C. State committed a mere nine turnovers. ... Wake Forest has won 10 of the past 13 meetings in the series, including an 86-75 decision on Feb. 10 in Winston-Salem. ... N.C. State senior Will Roach was in the starting lineup for only the second time in his career.