WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -- Beating a ranked opponent for the
first time didn't erase all the frustration in a surprisingly bad
year for Wake Forest.
Still, any little bit of success helps.
Eric Williams had 22 points and 16 rebounds to help the Demon
Deacons beat North Carolina State (No. 19 ESPN/USA Today; No. 22 AP) 76-63 on Saturday, a rare
highlight in a season of unfulfilled expectations.
Justin Gray scored 16 points for the Demon Deacons (15-15, 3-13
Atlantic Coast Conference), who head into next week's league
tournament as the 12th seed despite entering the season ranked 18th
nationally. It was their only win against a ranked opponent in
eight tries, and the first since beating fourth-ranked Duke in
There were plenty of reasons why the Demon Deacons handed the
Wolfpack (21-8, 10-6) a third straight loss to close the regular
season. They shot 61 percent to build a 12-point halftime lead and
pushed that margin to 17 points after the break. They took a 45-32
edge on the glass. They held N.C. State -- one of the ACC's top
3-point shooting clubs -- to 4-for-29 from behind the arc in a
miserable shooting day (26 percent).
"We're not a team to quit," Williams said. "We've lost close
games and it's been a rough season, but it wouldn't have been right
if we'd laid down and just rolled over."
The losses weighed heavily on Williams, Gray and the rest of the
seniors. They helped the Demon Deacons win an ACC regular-season
title as freshmen, reached the NCAA round of 16 as sophomores and
teamed with All-American point guard Chris Paul to earn the
school's first No. 1 ranking as juniors.
The way Gray figures, that class -- which ranks as one of the
most successful in school history -- has a final chance to leave an
"People always will remember the last couple of things you
do," said Gray, who shot just 3-for-17 but had six assists with no
turnovers. "Hopefully this win can catapult us to get some more
wins in the tournament."
The feeling was far different for the Wolfpack, which played
without injured leading scorer Cameron Bennerman. N.C. State had a
week to shake off consecutive home losses to North Carolina and
Boston College, but couldn't bounce back and heads into the league
tournament with little momentum.
"I guess we're going to go in under the radar now," said
senior Ilian Evtimov, who had just two points on 0-for-4 shooting
in 27 minutes. "People are going to say that we're not playing
real well. But that's not a bad situation to be in, knowing that
you are a very good basketball team that's just going through a bad
Bennerman, who averaged a team-high 13 points, sat out with a
pulled hamstring that kept him out of practice this week. That
opened the door for Gavin Grant to make just his second start in
the past 23 games, and the sophomore responded by scoring 21 points
to come within a point of matching his career high.
But he was the only Wolfpack player to step up in Bennerman's
absence. Engin Atsur scored 23 points but shot 5-for-16 from the
field and 2-for-10 on 3-pointers, while Williams completely
outplayed Cedric Simmons in the paint.
Simmons, a 6-foot-9 sophomore averaging 12 points per game,
finished with 10 but didn't make a field goal.
The Wolfpack got no closer than seven points in the final
minute, and the team's frustrations bubbled over late when Tony
Bethel was whistled for a technical foul for elbowing Gray to the
ground on a dead ball. Bethel fouled out, and Michael Drum and Gray
hit three free throws to make it 74-63 with 47.7 seconds left.
In fact, N.C. State managed to hang in the game by shooting
29-for-34 at the foul line. The number of whistles irked coach Skip
Prosser enough late in the first half that he complained to
official Mike Eades, who fired back, "Well, they've got to quit
But that was about the only thing that didn't go Wake Forest's
N.C. State ranked second in the ACC in 3-point shooting (39
percent) and led the league with an average of 9.5 made 3s per
game. But the Wolfpack missed its first 12 shots behind the arc,
and couldn't rally after Wake Forest built a 42-30 halftime lead.