- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

GREENSBORO, N.C. N.C. State wanted one more chance against Wake Forest after a certain win over the Demon Deacons slipped away last week.
The Wolfpack got it in the semifinals of the ACC tournament and made the most of the meeting, beating No.9 Wake Forest 87-83 yesterday to advance to the finals for the second straight season.
The win came exactly seven days after the Wolfpack blew an 11-point second-half lead in the regular-season finale and allowed Wake Forest star Josh Howard to shoot six free throws in the final 1.7 seconds to win the game.
"Last week's loss really struck us hard," said Julius Hodge, who scored a career-high 31 points yesterday. "It was like a rib shot to us and it really hurt."
The loss probably eliminated any chance the ninth-ranked Demon Deacons (24-5) had of earning a No.1 seeding in the NCAA tournament.
Coming off its first outright ACC regular-season title in 41 years, Wake Forest was trying to win its first league tournament championship since Tim Duncan-led squads did it in 1995 and 1996.
"Maybe they were hungrier than we were," said Wake Forest guard Taron Downey, who scored 18 points. "But that's not an excuse. Either way, we'd much rather be playing tomorrow than watching them on TV."
But the Wolfpack (18-11) will be playing, instead back in the championship game for the second straight year and third time in coach Herb Sendek's seven seasons.
N.C. State, which lost by 30 points to Duke in last year's final, will play the Blue Devils in today's championship.
Howard was saddled with foul problems most of the game and had his second poor shooting night of the tournament. He had 21 points and 12 rebounds but scored seven in the second half. He finished 6-for-21 from the floor and missed four of his five 3-point attempts.
"I just didn't hit some open shots that I had," Howard said. "That's it."
The Wolfpack, meanwhile, were on target from long range the entire second half. N.C. State made seven of eight 3-pointers in the second half and 10 of 19 overall.
Hodge made four from beyond the arc, as did Marcus Melvin (23 points). Josh Powell added 16 points for N.C. State.
The game took a critical turn for Wake Forest with 33 seconds left in the first half when Howard, chasing the rebound off of his own miss, fell on top of Powell to draw his third foul.
Wake already had center Eric Williams on the bench for 15 minutes of the first half with three fouls, but coach Skip Prosser gambled by putting Howard back in the game right before he picked up that foul.
"I got greedy," Prosser said. "Would I do it again? Probably. We don't want to be the richest guy in the graveyard."
Howard seemed skittish to go inside at the start of the second half, attempting four long shots that were off the mark.
N.C. State, meanwhile, was just warming up.
After closing the first half with consecutive 3-pointers from Melvin and Hodge to cut Wake Forest's lead to 37-33, they came out firing again.
The Wolfpack hit their first four shots 3-pointers by Melvin, Scooter Sherrill and Hodge, and a jumper from Clifford Crawford to take a 44-39 lead.
"To our good fortune, our guys were really ready to play," Sendek said. "At this time of the year, your best players have to be at their best and today we got terrific performances from a number of guys."
Things turned disastrous for Wake when Howard picked up his fourth foul with 10:31 to play when he reached in as Hodge sank a 3-pointer.
Although he waved off Prosser and tried to stay in the game, Howard went to the bench, and Hodge went to the free throw line.
Williams replaced Howard and needed just 28 seconds to draw his fourth foul. That sent Sherrill to the line, where he made both free throws and put N.C. State up 58-48.

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