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Wolfpack's NCAA hopes take a hit

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Chris Paul's first-half shot nearly
overshadowed his last-second basket to beat North Carolina State.

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.

But Paul also faced plenty of questions afterward about his low
blow to Wolfpack star Julius Hodge.

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 and tied the school record for overall victories and conference
wins.

With the Wolfpack (17-12, 7-9) leading 53-50, Justin 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 the court for a 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!"

Wake Forest shot just 29 percent in the second half, going
without a field goal for 10 minutes, but still pulled it out on big
shots by Paul and Gray.

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 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