The Wolfpack, starting four guards with Gavin Grant in the lineup for Ilian Evtimov, jumped out to a quick 8-5 lead behind six points from Grant. The 6'7 sophomore played his best game of the season last Saturday against Wake Forest, and his confidence carried over to today. However, the Deacons didn't allow anyone else to get going for the Wolfpack and built a huge lead behind its two top guns: Justin Gray and Eric Williams.
After Grant's outburst, the Deacons ran off a 20-2 run that effectively ended the game, as they led 25-10 after a dunk by Cameron Stanley. With Gray managing the game from the point guard position and Eric Williams dominating the post, Wake Forest had complete control of the contest. Added contributions from Chris Ellis and Michael Drum were also instrumental in the Deacons 37-20 halftime lead.
Wake shot a blistering 53.8% from the field in the half, including 5-of-10 from beyond the arc. Gray drilled three 3-pointers, and Drum was 4-of-5 from the field as the Deacons made 14-of-26 first-half field goals.
NC State's cold shooting from the regular season finale carried over as the Wolfpack struggled to put the ball in the basket in the first 20 minutes. Grant tallied 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting and Cameron Bennerman added seven, but the rest of the team scored just three points on 1-of-15 shooting as the Wolfpack shot 28.6% from the field and a frigid 1-of-11 from beyond the arc.
Trailing by 17 points after intermission, NC State's Ilian Evtimov knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key, and it appeared to give the Wolfpack an early spark. But Wake Forest came right back to score seven quick points to push its lead back to 21, including four by Williams. Evtimov was starting the second half for Cedric Simmons, as the Wolfpack sophomore center played with an injured hand and battled foul trouble.
The two teams exchanged baskets for much of the second half, as NC State could never really piece together a run similar to the one Wake Forest used to break the game open in the first half. The closest the Wolfpack could get was 12 points, after a dunk by Bennerman with three minutes remaining, but Wake Forest made most of its free throws down the stretch and two late 3-pointers by Courtney Fells and Bennerman yielded the final score, 82-71.
One positive for NC State is they shot the ball much better in the second half, knocking down 20-of-34 from the field (58.8%) and 9-of-18 from beyond the arc (50%). However, Wake continued to score easy baskets in the paint and shot 52.2% in the second half and 53.1% for the game. The Deacons knocked down 24-of-33 free throws while NC State made just 5-of-7, with all seven attempts coming from Grant.
Grant played another strong game for the Wolfpack. He finished with 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting and also had four rebounds in 35 minutes of action. Bennerman added 23 points and five boards as he hit 10-of-19 attempts from the field. No other Wolfpack player scored in double figures, a concern for a team that all season won games with balanced scoring from the players in its rotation.
Leading the way for Wake Forest was the dynamic duo of Gray and Williams. Gray finished with a double-double, as he tallied 19 points and a game-high 10 assists. Williams added 20 points and a game-high eight boards, and his presence in the paint was a huge factor in the Demon Deacon win.
Wake Forest (17-15) advances to face No. 1 seed Duke tomorrow in the first ACC semifinal. NC State (21-9) must now try and regroup for the NCAA tournament, obviously reeling as it enters the Big Dance on a four-game losing streak.