Wake Forest Advances To ACC Semifinals With 82-71 Win Over N.C. State
March 10, 2006
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - Just a few weeks ago, Wake Forest looked like a team hoping for a merciful end to a miserable season. Now the Demon Deacons are savoring every moment in an unexpected ride into the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals.
Eric Williams scored 20 points to lead Wake Forest past No. 25 North Carolina State 82-71 Friday's quarterfinals, giving the Demon Deacons their second upset of the Wolfpack in a week and earning their first trip to the semifinals in three years.
Senior Chris Ellis added a career-best 15 points for 12th-seeded Wake Forest (17-15), which faces third-ranked Duke on Saturday. The Demon Deacons are the first last-seeded team to win two games in the tournament since Virginia in 1977.
The Demon Deacons reached the quarterfinals with a 78-66 win against No. 5 seed Florida State, beating a team trying to shore up its NCAA prospects. Now, with another win against the suddenly reeling Wolfpack (21-9), they're playing their best basketball and brimming with a nothing-to-lose confidence after a disastrous regular season.
"We're excited," said Kyle Visser, who had 10 rebounds as part of a strong effort by a typically inconsistent supporting cast. "We have hope now. We were holding on to very little hope. That's a big thing for us. We see we can play as well as we can."
Wake Forest was ranked 18th in the preseason and picked to finish third in the ACC. But the Demon Deacons struggled after losing All-American point guard Chris Paul to the NBA, and seemed to have little depth behind all-league performers Williams and Justin Gray.
Williams and Gray each had their usual strong outings Friday against the tournament's fourth seed. Williams went 8-for-13 from the floor with eight rebounds, while Gray finished with 19 points and a career-best 10 assists, directing an offense that shot 53 percent.
But it's the play of the guys behind that duo that suddenly has Wake Forest surging.
Ellis came into the tournament averaging 4.7 points with four double-figure scoring games, but he had 10 points with three 3s against the Seminoles and followed that with another big day.
"Coach just wanted me to play loose," Ellis said. "We can't bank on postseason play because of the record we have. We just have to look at the next team we play, that it could be our last game."
Walk-on Michael Drum - who came to Greensboro averaging 5.3 points - added 12 points and hit two 3-pointers, and redshirt freshman Cameron Stanley matched his career-high of 10 points for the third time in four games. And the 6-foot-11 Visser, a reserve who has struggled just about all season, chipped in six points and helped the Demon Deacons take a 40-24 edge on the boards.
It marked only the second time all season that Wake Forest had five players score in double figures.
"We've got a lot of team chemistry now," Williams said. "A lot of guys are playing to their potential. Like a great man always said, 'Better late than never.' I'm glad we're doing it now."
N.C. State, however, is looking for answers after losing four straight, including consecutive losses to a team that hadn't beaten a ranked opponent all season - a collapse that has put a damper on the Wolfpack's trip to a fifth straight NCAA tournament under coach Herb Sendek.
"We've had a tough patch here at the end of the year, and a lot of attention has been drawn to that part of our season," Sendek said. "I don't want that to take away from the fact that this team has played outstanding basketball and really enjoyed a heck of a season. Our challenge now is to rest up a little bit, regroup and prepare for the tournament next week."
Gavin Grant scored a career-high 24 for the Wolfpack, who struggled with their shot for the second straight time against Wake Forest. After shooting 26 percent and 4-for-29 from 3-point range in last weekend's 76-63 loss, N.C. State shot 29 percent to fall behind by 17 points at halftime.
That lead grew to 23 points after the break. N.C. State improved in the second half to finish at 45 percent and went 10-for-29 from behind the arc for the game - much of that coming with Wake Forest leading comfortably.
Cameron Bennerman, the team's leading scorer who missed the last meeting with a pulled hamstring, finished with 23 points.