8:00 PM ET, February 22, 2004
McCamish Pavilion, Atlanta, Georgia
ATLANTA (AP) -- Chris Paul sure picked a good time to score his first points.After Justin Gray carried No. 15 Wake Forest most of the game, Paul scored the clinching basket -- his only field goal -- with 12 seconds left in an 80-76 victory over Georgia Tech (No. 16 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) on Sunday night.Gray scored 26 points to spark an early 16-0 run for Wake Forest (17-6, 7-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), which has defeated three straight ranked teams for the first time in school history.Georgia Tech (19-7, 6-6) put together a furious comeback that tied the game at 71 with 3½ minutes remaining. But the Yellow Jackets couldn't get over the hump.Wake Forest made up for a 73-66 loss to the Yellow Jackets in Winston-Salem last month, taking a crucial game in the ACC standings. The teams began the night tied for third place, trailing only Duke and North Carolina State.B.J. Elder led the rally with 27 points -- all but one coming in the second half. The last of his four 3-pointers, with 40 seconds remaining, brought Georgia Tech to 78-76.But Wake Forest ran down the shot clock and Paul worked inside for a layup with 12.2 seconds left. The super freshman was 1-for-6 from the field after scoring a total of 53 points in victories over Cincinnati (No. 14 ESPN/USA Today, No. 17 AP) and No. 3 Duke."Well, the kid doesn't dress in a phone booth," Demon Deacons coach Skip Prosser joked. But "that drive at the end of the game, we couldn't have drawn it up any better. While Georgia Tech certainly played well against Chris, it was a big-time play by a big-time player."The Yellow Jackets wanted to get a quick foul at the start of the possession, but coach Paul Hewitt conceded that Wake Forest put out a different lineup than he expected. His players didn't know whom to foul, so they didn't foul anyone."We made a critical mistake not fouling," Hewitt said. "That's on me."Georgia Tech never led but sure made a game of it, bouncing back from a 60-45 deficit with just over 11 minutes remaining. Will Bynum used a great crossover dribble to lose his defender, pulling the Yellow Jackets even for the first time all night with 3:36 remaining.That's where the comeback ended. Eric Williams powered inside for a basket that put the Demon Deacons ahead to stay. Then, after Taron Downey's wild drive rolled off the rim, Gray managed to tip it in for a 75-71 lead with 2½ minutes left.Williams hit another crucial shot with 1:08 to go, once again managing to score against 7-foot-1 Luke Schenscher."Down the stretch, when you get the ball in your hands, you feel you've got to do something with it," said Williams, who scored 13 points.Gray has been on a roll since being held to three points in a Jan. 25 loss to Florida State. Since then, he has averaged 21 points a game.Elder picked up two quick fouls and played just six minutes in the first half, missing his only shot from the field. But he was nearly unstoppable in the second half."It was real tough to sit over there on the bench, to see it going like that and not be able to do anything about it," Elder said. "In the second half, I picked it up. I started going to the basket, but it was not enough."Wake Forest won the 1,300th game in school history while denying Georgia Tech -- at least for now -- its first 20-win season since 1995-96."I knew Georgia Tech was going to make a run, especially at home," Prosser said. "That's just the way it is in this league."The Yellow Jackets found themselves playing catch-up after Wake Forest strung together 16 consecutive points. The spurt took a little more than three minutes and featured Gray knocking down three 3-pointers -- some from beyond the NBA arc -- and another 3 by Downey."That gave them a lot of momentum, a lot of confidence at the start of the game," Hewitt said.Trent Strickland finished the run with an 8-foot jumper in traffic, giving the Demon Deacons a 21-4 lead with the game less than seven minutes old.About two minutes later, the game took an ugly turn when Vytas Danelius set a nasty pick in the backcourt on Anthony McHenry. Danelius threw up his arms, which sent McHenry sprawling and earned a flagrant foul.When McHenry got up, he had to be pulled away from Danelius. But the officials quickly regained control, and there was no more trouble between the players.Despite 14 turnovers in the first half, including four in five possessions at one point, Wake Forest went into halftime with a 39-26 lead.Downey finished with 19 points, hitting all three of his attempts from beyond the stripe. Jarrett Jack was the only Georgia Tech player besides Elder in double figures, scoring 21."We showed a lot character when we tied it up," Jack said. "We just fell short at the end."
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