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Wolfpack have dropped four of five

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -- About 24 hours after Duke joined
North Carolina atop the Atlantic Coast Conference, Wake Forest made
it a three-way tie.

Did anyone notice?

"I know a lot of attention goes to Duke and North Carolina,"
Demon Deacons coach Skip Prosser said. "We're like those guys
chasing Butch and Sundance. They know who we are. They know we
aren't going anywhere."

Justin Gray scored 18 points, Eric Williams added 15 and No. 6
Wake Forest held off North Carolina State 86-75 on Thursday night.

Sixth-man Taron Downey was 4-of-4 on 3-pointers and finished
with 14 points to help the Demon Deacons (20-3, 8-2 ACC) stop a
pair of rallies in the second half. Chris Paul had 13 points, eight
assists and five steals.

"I did find my groove out there," Downey said. "Every good
shooter wants to shoot that second one after he makes one, and
after I made that second one, I had to shoot the third."

The Wolfpack (13-10, 3-7) had won three straight against their
oldest rival, but not even a sensational performance from Julius
Hodge could stop their slide toward the NIT. Benched for showing up
late for a team function -- the second time this season that's
happened -- the reigning ACC player of the year made his first 10
shots and scored 27 points.

Three times in the second half, Hodge jumped in the passing lane
for steals and raced to the other end for dunks to bring N.C. State
back from a 19-point deficit.

"I came into the game with the same attitude I always have,"
Hodge said. "It doesn't matter, because we still lost the game."

Wake Forest had an answer for every comeback. When Ilian
Evtimov's 3-pointer cut the lead to 58-51, Downey answered with one
of his own, and Gray and Jamaal Levy combined for three free throws
to increase the margin to 13.

But Hodge and the Wolfpack weren't finished. He got inside for a
layup, added his final coast-to-coast slam, then fed Jordan Collins
for an open 3-pointer to make it 66-60. N.C. State had a chance to
get even closer when Williams missed a dunk and had his putback
blocked by Cedric Simmons.

When Simmons tried a pass to Tony Bethel, Paul intercepted it
and forced a foul from Bethel, then made two free throws for an
eight-point lead. That was part of Wake Forest's 35-10 advantage at
the line, and Bethel and Engin Atsur both fouled out trying to
guard Paul.

"They're a heck of a basketball team," N.C. State coach Herb
Sendek said. "Offensively, I don't see any component they don't
have. And they don't let you off the hook when you foul them."

The Deacons closed the first half with a 17-7 run to take a
16-point lead, and the margin was 19 early in the second half on a
follow by Levy. The Wolfpack got back in it by turning up the
defensive pressure, holding Wake Forest without a basket for nearly
6 minutes.

With nearly everyone converting their free throws, the Deacons
did enough to win for the fifth time in their past six games. They
host Florida State on Saturday before traveling to Miami and to
Duke next week.

"They're a good team, and there are no off nights in the ACC,"
Prosser said. "To have 20 wins at this point with our schedule is
an accomplishment, but at the same time, our guys know we have a
quick turnaround to Saturday."

N.C. State is going the opposite way. After reaching as high as
No. 12 in The Associated Press poll in December, the Wolfpack have
lost four of five. They will complete a brutal stretch of road
games Sunday at Georgia Tech, then finish out the schedule with
four of their final five games at home.

"We just have to continue to play, stay together and work,"
Sendek said. "You never know what tomorrow brings."

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