NEW YORK (AP) -- Justin Gray refused to let an elbow in the face
upset his game, and his second-half shooting protected Wake
Forest's No. 1 status Wednesday night.
The top-ranked Demon Deacons survived some hot shooting by
Providence's Ryan Gomes at Madison Square Garden, defeating the
Friars 79-67 in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT.
The victory sent Wake Forest (4-0) into Friday night's
championship game against Arizona (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) . The Wildcats edged
Michigan 61-60 in overtime late Wednesday.
Gray had to go to the dressing room briefly in the first half
and needed six stitches in his right eyebrow after taking a shot to
the face from Tuukka Kotti.
"I took an elbow from No. 11," Gray said. "I saw blood and I
thought, `What's going on?"
Helped off the floor, Gray angrily threw a towel to the floor on
his way to the dressing room.
"I thought maybe I'd need a Band-Aid," he said.
It was more serious than that but Gray hardly seemed bothered,
nailing three 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the second
half, a sort of statement that he was fine.
And the stitches?
"It's something that happens in a game," he said.
"He's not that pretty to begin with," coach Skip Prosser said.
Gray's spurt were interrupted by a spectacular steal by Gomes
who went in alone but blew the jam. It was Gomes' only mistake in
the opening minutes of the second half. He scored 10 straight
points, keeping Providence in the game.
"We didn't guard Gomes," Prosser said. "We found no answers
for the young man. He's very talented. He's a handful."
Gray, who fouled out with 2:31 to play, finished with five
3-pointers and led Wake Forest with 21 points. Gomes had 24 and
Dwight Brewington 23 for Providence.
The game was the 100th for Prosser at Wake Forest and for a
while the Deacons looked as if they would make the milestone an
easy victory. Led by preseason All-American Chris Paul, they scored
the game's first seven points and then used a 16-2 run to open a
"The first 15 minutes, we played as well as we could play,"
Paul opened with a three-point play to set the tone. Eric
Williams and Jamaal Levy followed Paul's early spurt with baskets
and Wake looked like it would run away.
Providence (3-1) got three straight early baskets from Gomes,
but the Friars were beat down the floor frequently. Williams had
seven of his 18 points in the first 20 minutes and Levy even popped
outside for a long-range basket from the extended 3-point line. The
tournament is being played with an experimental 20-foot, 6-inch
3-point line -- 9 inches beyond the normal distance.
The longer distance hardly disturbed Gray, who nailed five of
eight from outside the arc.
After trailing by 18, Providence closed the first half with a
10-0 run, shutting out the Deacons for the final six minutes of the
half. But the Friars were struggling from the floor, missing 17 of
25 shots. Wake Forest also had shooting trouble, making just 12 of
31 first-half shots.
Providence got as close as four points in the second half at
46-42, but Gray nailed two straight baskets to keep Wake safely in