7:00 PM ET, November 18, 2004
Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Winston-salem, North Carolina
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -- For the second straight game, Wake Forest had to fight off its own inconsistency and an opponent that refused to quit.Chris Paul scored 16 points despite taking just three shots from the field Thursday night to help the No. 2 Demon Deacons beat Virginia Commonwealth 81-67 in the Preseason NIT.Paul hit 14 of 15 free throws and had five assists for the Demon Deacons (2-0), who head to New York for next week's semifinal matchup with Providence. Justin Gray added 14 points and was one of five Wake Forest players in double figures.Alexander Harper had 17 points to lead the Rams (1-1).As in their season opener against George Washington, the Demon Deacons shot 50 percent and had some brilliant offensive spurts.They opened the game with eight straight points and led by double figures after just five minutes. They also had an 18-0 first-half run that put them ahead to stay despite Paul being on the bench with two fouls.But they also had stretches full of turnovers, missed free throws and shaky defense that helped the Rams hang around in a game that threatened to get away from them in the opening minutes."We played well enough to win," said Paul, who went just 1-for-3 from the floor. "But all those free throws and that many turnovers won't win us huge games down the road."The game was a rematch of last season's first-round NCAA tournament game, won by Wake Forest 79-78. In that game, the Rams were tied going into the final 90 seconds before Paul made several plays to help the Demon Deacons survive.They had another fight Thursday, but no late drama."That's a good team," said Trent Strickland, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. "They gave us a run for our money in the NCAA tournament. I think today they fought hard. But I think we picked up our defense the times we needed during the game."Wake Forest certainly made plays when it needed to. The Demon Deacons went 26-for-39 from the line, but hit 16 of 22 free throws after halftime. That included a 10-for-12 stretch that turned a six-point lead into a 70-56 edge with less than six minutes left.They also committed only four of their 20 turnovers in the final 12 minutes.In Monday's win against George Washington, the Demon Deacons went 22-for-34 from the line and had 20 turnovers."At times we played very, very well," coach Skip Prosser said, "and at other times we didn't."Virginia Commonwealth used a 17-2 run to take a 27-24 lead midway through the first half, but the Demon Deacons finally got their offense clicking after committing seven turnovers in nine possessions.Gray hit a layup, two jumpers and a 3-pointer in the spurt, and assisted on a 3 by Taron Downey. He closed the run with a drive from the left wing, giving Wake Forest a 42-27 lead with 2:30 left in the half.The Rams got as close as four points early in the second half, but Paul found Jamaal Levy for a layup and a 49-43 lead. Then Gray found Levy for an alley-oop dunk and hit a pullup jumper for a 10-point lead with 15:35 to play."They're a heck of a basketball team," VCU coach Jeff Capel said. "They're well-coached, explosive ... and play the right way. Their team plays like they're on a mission."The game marked a homecoming of sorts for Capel. The 29-year-old spent two years as a ballboy while his father, Jeff Sr., was an assistant coach for the Demon Deacons from 1986-89.As an 11-year-old, Capel appeared on the cover of Wake Forest's 1986-87 media guide alongside Muggsy Bogues.But it was a disappointing night for the Rams, who rallied for an overtime win against American in the opener. Capel was whistled for a technical foul with his team trailing by eight midway through the second half, leading to two more free throws for Paul.After the technical, Capel took off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves while the student section near his bench heckled him with chants of "Capel! Capel!"Capel went 1-8 against the Demon Deacons while playing for Duke during the 1990s, and said he even broke his ankle in an AAU tournament here."This place hasn't been too kind to me," he said.