- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 12, 2005

As it turned out, Wake Forest’s Chris Paul delivered a low blow to his own team.

Paul’s punch to the groin of N.C. State’s Julius Hodge on Sunday not only sent the Wolfpack star grimacing to the ground but ultimately cost the Demon Deacons.

Paul served a one-game university-imposed suspension for the act last night, and N.C. State took advantage of it to stun the Demon Deacons 81-65 in an ACC tournament quarterfinal at MCI Center.

With Paul nattily attired on the bench in a tan pinstripe suit, vest and gold tie, the Wolfpack controlled the tempo and bolstered their NCAA tournament hopes by advancing to the ACC semifinals. Seventh-seeded N.C. State will meet third-seeded Duke this afternoon.

“We wanted to play our way in rather than talk our way in,” said N.C. State coach Herb Sendek, whose team improved to 19-12 by winning six of its last eight. “And we helped ourselves tonight.”

Hodge led the Wolfpack with 22 points and eight rebounds while Ilian Evtimov continued his long-range barrage by making five of seven 3-pointers and delivering a career-high seven assists. N.C. State forced 15 turnovers and scored 24 points off them.

“Those were telling,” Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said. “We had players capable of winning the game. I am not going to sit here and talk about who didn’t play.”

Paul’s absence was evident as the Demon Deacons managed only 11 assists. The missing playmaker is averaging 14.9 points and 6.6 assists. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack had 19 assists and only eight turnovers. N.C. State overcame the loss of starting guard Tony Bethel, who suffered a groin pull in Thursday’s opening-round win over Florida State.

Cameron Bennerman provided a boost with 17 points and eight rebounds. Freshman Andrew Brackman gave N.C. State a surprising 16 points, largely on layups off backdoor passes.

“It just feels good to win this game,” said Hodge, who refused to fuel any revenge angle toward the Demon Deacons.

Wake Forest, the nation’s third-ranked team and the tournament’s second seed, will have to sit and wait for tomorrow night’s NCAA Selection Committee announcement to see if it will be a No. 1 seed.

The Demon Deacons (26-4) had a four-game winning streak snapped.

The Wolfpack took control after a 3-pointer by Justin Gray (17 points) gave Wake Forest a 44-41 lead early in the second half.

N.C. State answered with 10 straight, starting with Bennerman coming out of nowhere for a high-flying rebound and slam. Bennerman then threw an alley-oop to Brackman, who finished the play to give the Wolfpack the lead for good at 45-44.

Brackman provided another putback, and the slight 6-foot-10 freshman then converted a reverse layup off a nice bounce pass from Bennerman to make it 49-44. Bennerman ended the run with his own backdoor layup off Evtimov’s feed.

Wake cut the lead to 55-48 on Eric Williams’ inside score, but Evtimov answered with a pair of 3-pointers, the second from 23 feet to give N.C. State a 12-point advantage.

The comfortable lead allowed the Wolfpack to run their deliberate, clock-draining offense, which often resulted in easy layups and open jumpers.

The score was tied 38-38 at halftime thanks to Hodge’s 3-pointer with four seconds left. Wake looked out of sync early in the half as N.C. State built a nine-point lead. The Wolfpack scored five straight on Evtimov’s lucky 3-pointer, a flat-footed lob that was meant to be an alley-oop.

Cedric Simmons’ slam after coming down the left baseline gave N.C. State a 27-18 lead with 9:40 left and forced the Deacons to call time out.

Wake immediately responded with six straight to start a 14-3 run. Gray’s 3-pointer started the run and his pull-up 3 later cut N.C. State’s advantage to 27-26.

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