Hodge leads Wolfpack with 22 points

WASHINGTON (AP) -- North Carolina State was told not to seek revenge against Wake Forest.

No one -- particularly the Demon Deacons -- could stop the Wolfpack from winning.

Julius Hodge led a balanced attack with 22 points and Ilian Evtimov added 18 points and seven assists, helping NC State upset No. 3 Wake Forest 81-65 on Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul was suspended for the game for punching Hodge in the groin during the teams' previous meeting earlier in the week, giving this early-round game the emotion and intensity of a Final Four. The referees seemed to sense that, too, so they made it a point to call touch fouls and to step in whenever there was contact.

"Anger is one letter short of danger," Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek said. "It's important to focus, not get angry. Our guys did a great job of coming together."

In the first half, a technical foul was called on the Demon Deacons bench -- apparently on one of the support staff -- and later Wake Forest guard Justin Gray left for a bit after getting elbowed in the face by NC State's Andrew Brackman. Amazingly, Gray was called for a foul.

"We were even warned about it during the game, so I think that opened our eyes a little bit more, saying, 'Hey, we just need to be focused on the game and not get caught up in the physical aspects,'" Wolfpack guard Cameron Bennerman said.

Paul sat beside the coaches at the head of the bench, looking very dapper in a three-piece gold suit. He stood near his teammates during their pregame warmups and often offered encouragement or instruction during the game, but the Demon Deacons (26-5) sure could have used him on the court, mostly on defense.

The Wolfpack (19-12) shot 51 percent and consistently beat defenders to the rim on backdoor cuts, with everybody getting a chance in their Princeton-style offense.

"Nobody's left out," Evtimov said. "Everybody touches the ball. If they don't have the basket, they have the assist. If they don't have the assist, they have the pass prior to the assist, which is just as important."

Bennerman, in the starting lineup in place of the injured Tony Bethel (groin), filled up the stat sheet with 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists. He and Evtimov combined for 12 assists against no turnovers, and freshman Andrew Brackman scored 16 points, the first time he's been in double figures since January.

"We had eight turnovers and 19 assists," Hodge said. "That's playing basketball."

At the center of the impressive display was Hodge. Booed by the Wake Forest fans every time he touched the ball early on, the reigning ACC player of the year ran the offense, took open shots and helped NC State win the rebound battle.

He and Bennerman both had eight boards -- matching the total of Deacons center Eric Williams -- and Engin Atsur contributed three steals despite foul trouble.

"We had more than enough incentive," Hodge said. "It wasn't about anyone else except NC State. That's all we could play for, what's on the front of the jersey."

That team effort was more than enough to handle Wake Forest, which was playing without Paul for the first time in his two-year career.

"We had the players capable of winning the game," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said. "I'm not going to sit here and talk about who didn't play."

Williams and Gray led the Deacons with 17 points apiece.

Wake Forest took its final lead at 44-41 on a 3-pointer by Gray about 2 minutes into the second half before Bennerman started a 10-0 run with a powerful dunk on a miss by Hodge. Seconds later, Brackman rose up to slam home a lob pass by Bennerman and then put back another miss by Hodge for a three-point lead.

Finally, Bennerman finished it off with a layup after a nifty bounce pass from Evtimov, and the Wolfpack cruised from there.

"It was a real intense, emotional game," Williams said. "In the first half, it was really emotional. It just seemed like in the second half, they outscrapped us."