No. 13 seed VCU gives Wake Forest a big scare before falling 79-78
Posted: Thursday March 18, 2004 6:59PM; Updated: Thursday March 18, 2004 7:00PM
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Chris Paul was in complete control in his first NCAA tournament game.
The Wake Forest freshman star had 22 points and made several key plays to lead the fourth-seeded Demon Deacons past Virginia Commonwealth 79-78 on Thursday.
Justin Gray scored 15 points to help the Demon Deacons (20-9) advance to the second round for the third straight year. Jamaal Levy overcame a sprained left knee to add 10 points and 10 rebounds, including the go-ahead basket.
Wake Forest will face 12th-seeded Manhattan, a 75-60 winner over fifth-seeded Florida, in the second round of the East Rutherford Regional.
Paul assisted on Levy's go-ahead basket with a minute left and hit four free throws in the final seconds to help the Demon Deacons survive their second first-round scare in as many years. Last year, second-seeded Wake Forest held off ETSU 76-73 in the East Regional.
Paul -- the Atlantic Coast Conference's rookie of the year -- went 12-for-15 from the line Thursday, and had seven assists against two turnovers in 37 minutes.
"Coach [Skip] Prosser and my teammates have the ultimate confidence in me," Paul said. "A lot of times I say they have more confidence in me than I have in myself. At the end of the game, Coach kept giving me the ball, so I thought it was my responsibility to come through."
Domonic Jones had 22 points and seven assists for the Rams (23-8), who were making their first NCAA appearance in eight years.
Virginia Commonwealth showed signs of nervousness early, falling behind by 11 points in the first 61/2 minutes. But the Rams rallied behind Jones, and even led by six points midway through the second half.
The teams were tied going into the final 90 seconds, thanks to VCU's second-half 3-point shooting and Wake Forest's inability to hit free throws. Wake Forest shot just 17-for-27 at the line, including a 13-for-21 effort after halftime.
The Rams, meanwhile, hit 8 of 13 3-pointers in the second half and shot 51 percent for the game.
In the end, though, Paul made the difference.
"He made all the plays, whether it was getting to the free-throw line, scoring, pulling up for a jumpshot or making a correct pass," VCU coach Jeff Capel said. "That's what makes him such a good player. He just has an incredible feel for the game."
The Demon Deacons went ahead to stay when Paul passed inside to Levy, who sidestepped Nick George and dunked for a 75-73 lead with a minute left.
The Rams had a chance to tie it, but Jones missed a runner. George got the offensive rebound to keep the possession alive, but Gray rebounded B.A. Walker's miss in the lane with 25 seconds left.
Paul then hit four free throws in the final 11.9 seconds left to seal it, showing more composure from the line than the Demon Deacons did for most of the game. Walker hit a running 3-pointer as time expired to put the Rams just short of their first tournament win since 1985.
Paul also assisted on two of three consecutive 3-pointers by the Demon Deacons, erasing a 63-57 deficit midway through the second half.
"I wouldn't trade him for any point guard in the country," Prosser said. "He possesses a warrior's heart."
The game marked a homecoming of sorts for the 29-year-old Capel, who played at nearby Duke from 1994-97. During his career, Capel went 1-8 against the Tim Duncan-led Demon Deacons.
Capel also had ties to Wake Forest, spending two years as a ballboy while his father, Jeff Sr., was an assistant coach for the Demon Deacons from 1986-89. As an 11-year-old, Capel appeared on the cover of Wake Forest's 1986-87 media guide alongside Muggsy Bogues.
"We came in, we weren't afraid and we fought for 40 minutes," Capel said. "We don't take any moral victory from this. We came down here to win a game."