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March 9, 2006

Gray leads Wake over Florida State

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Justin Gray had 25 points and Eric Williams added 14 to help Wake Forest beat Florida State 78-66 Thursday in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, severely hurting the Seminoles' chances for an NCAA bid.

Chris Ellis swished a 3-pointer to give the 12th-seeded Demon Deacons (16-15) the lead for good with about 3 1/2 minutes left, and they pulled away from there for their second-straight win. For a team that started 2-13 in the ACC, it's quite an achievement.

Wake Forest moves on to the quarterfinals to play No. 25 North Carolina State.

Florida State (19-9) finished fifth during the regular season at 9-7, and coach Leonard Hamilton can only hope it was good enough for a spot in the NCAA tournament. Al Thornton had 17 points before fouling out and Isaiah Swann scored 12 for the Seminoles, who had won four of their past five games.

This one appeared to be going their way, too. Thornton's layup early in the second half gave them a 45-34 lead, and the margin still was seven following a 3 from Swann with 6:40 remaining. Yet Florida State went nearly 6 minutes without a basket, and Wake Forest took advantage.

An 11-0 run did the trick, and it started with Williams' post up move as he was fouled. He failed to make the free throw, but his teammates picked up the slack. Trent Strickland drove down the lane and Gray converted a pair at the line to bring the Deacons within one.

Ellis missed from the top of the key, then got another chance after Alexander Johnson clanged a shot off the rim on the other end. This time, Ellis took a pass in the corner from Justin Gray, and his unorthodox delivery sent the ball through from beyond the arc to put Wake Forest ahead 61-59, its first lead of the game.

The Seminoles, meanwhile, were falling apart. Thornton missed a wild 3-pointer from the wing that led to Gray's fallaway jumper on the ensuing possession as the Deacons pulled away.

They also had some good fortune. Johnson missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and after Strickland did the same, he was able to chase down the rebound. He drove down the middle and banked in a shot from straightaway, perhaps signifying this truly was Wake Forest's night.

Johnson eventually snapped that field goal drought with a putback in the final minute, but it only brought Seminoles within 10 points. Now they must wait and see what happens Sunday, when the NCAA selection committee picks the 65-team field.

Gray finished with eight assists and only one turnover, and Strickland grabbed all 10 of his rebounds on the defensive end. Ellis and Michael Drum each scored 10 points, while Todd Galloway had 10 for Florida State.

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