The Deacons, starting five seniors on Senior Day including All-ACC standouts Eric Williams and Justin Gray, jumped out to an early 7-0 advantage and never looked back as they led the entire game.
Wolfpack head coach Herb Sendek started sophomore Gavin Grant for Bennerman and also inserted sophomore Andrew Brackman for senior Ilian Evtimov, who didn't practice all week after suffering an ankle injury last week. Grant played his best game of the season, providing a spark after going to the locker room early in the first half. While going up for a rebound, the 6'7 guard caught an inadvertent elbow from Wake's Trent Strickland across the bridge of the nose. The injury was diagnosed as a broken nose, but Grant came back to play and was NC State's main offensive weapon.
He tallied 14 points in the opening half, and teamed with Engin Atsur to score 24 of the Wolfpack's 30 first-half points. NC State shot 29.2% from the field, but missed all 12 3-point attempts. Wake Forest was on fire from the field, shooting 60.7% while drilling 6-of-11 from beyond the arc. Two of those 3-pointers came from Strickland, who knocked down back-to-back treys in the final minute to push a 36-30 lead to a 42-30 halftime advantage. NC State was able to stay that close by hitting 16-of-19 first-half free throws, while Wake only attempted 2-of-5 from the line.
Grant scored five quick points to open the second half, but Wake came back with a 4-point spurt from Williams. The 6'9 senior center had a monster game for the Deacons, and anytime they needed a big rebound or basket he always made the play in his final game at Lawrence Joel Coliseum.
Wake Forest managed to keep the lead in double-digits throughout the second half, but NC State was able to cut the lead to 70-61 in the final minute. After a forced turnover by Courtney Fells, Evtimov, who played 27 minutes off the bench for the Wolfpack, missed a jump hook and Williams snatched down the rebound, essentially ending NC State's chances of winning the game.
Williams finished with 22 points and a game-high 16 rebounds, as he hit 7-of-11 shots and 8-of-11 from the free throw line. Gray added 16 points, six assists, and five rebounds, but shot just 3-of-17, as the Wolfpack's Engin Atsur did a terrific job of making Gray take bad shots. Fellow senior Chris Ellis chipped in 11 and Cameron Stanley totaled 10 points off the bench.
NC State played much better defensively in the second half, but just couldn't get any shots to go down. After Wake scorched the nets to start the game, the Wolfpack limited them to 26.1% from the field, and the Deacons made their last field goal with 9:34 remaining in the game. However, Wake Forest was able to capitalize from the free throw line, hitting 20-of-26 in the second half to overcome the cold-shooting effort.
The Wolfpack didn't shoot any better, in fact they were worse from the field. Hitting just 24.2% in the second half, NC State shot 26.3% for the game, connecting on 15-of-57 shots while hitting just 4-of-29 3-point attempts. The Wolfpack did knock down 29-of-34 from the free throw line, but it wasn't enough as the lack of scoring from the field did them in.
Atsur led NC State in scoring, as he tallied 23 points and a game-high four steals. Grant added 21 points and eight rebounds on 7-of-14 shooting, and Cedric Simmons chipped in 10 points and nine boards. All of Simmons' points came from the free throw line, as he finished 0-4 from the field. Simmons, Evtimov, and starting point guard Tony Bethel combined to hit 0-of-12 shots in 87 minutes of action.
NC State (21-8, 10-6) is reeling after losing three straight games, and is now the No. 4 seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament after appearing to have second place locked up just two weeks ago. The Wolfpack will play the winner of No. 5/No. 12 game at 2:20 pm on Friday. Wake Forest is the No. 12 seed, but the No. 5 seed is still up in the air, as the winner of Sunday's Miami/Florida State game will secure the seed.