Buzzer Beater Lifts No. 4 Wake Forest Over N.C. State, 55-53
March 6, 2005
By AARON BEARD
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Chris Paul's last-second basket hardly seemed to be his biggest shot of the game.
The sophomore hit a buzzer-beating runner to lift fourth-ranked Wake Forest past the North Carolina State 55-53 on Sunday night, keeping the Demon Deacons in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
He also had hit Wolfpack star Julius Hodge below the belt in the first half, a shot that led to speculation on whether Paul will be available for the Demon Deacons' next game.
Either way, the feisty point guard was the center of attention.
Paul finished with nine points and six assists for the Demon Deacons (26-4, 13-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), who have won 10 of 11 games and tied the school record for victories overall and in conference play.
Justin Gray added 15 points and a clutch tying 3-pointer to set up Paul's final shot, allowing the Demon Deacons to overcome a determined effort by a team desperate to improve its NCAA resume.
Wake Forest shot just 29 percent in the second half, going without a field goal for 10 minutes, but still pulled it out on Paul and Gray's big shots.
And on the same day top-ranked Illinois, No. 3 Kentucky, No. 6 Duke and No. 7 Kansas all lost, the Demon Deacons saw an opportunity.
"We saw everybody losing earlier," Gray said. "We thought that might've opened the door a little bit more (for a No. 1 seed) and gave us a chance right here to make a move up. I think everybody knew that and that's why we fought the whole game."
With the Wolfpack (17-12, 7-9) leading 53-50, Gray nailed a 3 right in front of the Wake Forest bench with 12.8 seconds left. Engin Atsur tried to answer with a hurried 3-pointer that fell well short of the rim and out of bounds, giving the Demon Deacons the ball with 4.2 seconds left.
Paul did the rest. He inbounded the ball to Vytas Danelius, who sent it right back. Paul then weaved through the retreating Wolfpack defenders, bounced off a bump from Atsur and launched a fadeaway shot from about 12 feet.
The ball swished through the net at the horn, sending the Demon Deacons onto oncourt celebration - and giving Paul the last word on a testy night in Raleigh.
In a play that set the tone the rest of the night, Paul gave Hodge a harsh parting gift on senior night, hitting him with a low blow during a battle underneath the basket. Hodge, the reigning ACC player of the year, fell to the court with 12:48 left in the first half.
With Hodge laying on the ground, his older brother, Steve, walked onto the court to see if Julius was OK - and to yell toward Paul on the Wake Forest bench. Steve Hodge walked off the court, and arena security soon instructed him to leave the court area.
Once Hodge got up, he angrily yelled and gestured toward the Demon Deacons' sideline on his way back to the bench.
Paul said the two were just tangled up.
"I don't believe I popped him," Paul said. "It was just the heat of the game. I've got too much respect for him to try to pop him on senior night."
When told that replays showed him hitting Hodge, Paul responded, "I haven't seen the replay."
The question is whether Paul will face any kind of sanction from the league for the blow. Hodge mentioned his suspension as a freshman for an elbow he threw against Maryland's Steve Blake, which was caught on film and led to a one-game suspension afterward.
Wake Forest, which finished second in the league standings thanks to North Carolina's win against Duke earlier Sunday, plays Friday in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament.
"He punched me in the groin and the ref saw it," Hodge said. "I got suspended for that (as a freshman). ... I never play dirty like that."
Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said he didn't see the incident. N.C. State coach Herb Sendek said he had reviewed replays of the incident, but declined comment.
"I think the replay is going to have to speak for me tonight," he said.
A few minutes after returning to the game, Hodge was whistled for a technical foul when he gave Paul a shove after he was fouled him in the post.
From there, Paul was booed loudly every time he touched the ball, and N.C. State fans began chanting "Dirty Deacons!"
N.C. State had several chances in this one, but went just 9-for-22 from the free-throw line - including a miss from Tony Bethel with 24.1 seconds left that allowed Gray to tie the game with his 3.
The loss could prove damaging to the Wolfpack's hopes for a fourth straight NCAA bid. N.C. State was ranked as high as No. 12 and started 10-1 this season, but lost nine of its next 12 games in a season full of injuries and unfulfilled promise.
Ilian Evtimov scored 19 points to lead the Wolfpack.
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