WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Josh Howard gained an edge over Julius Hodge for Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year honors.
Howard scored 20 of his 24 points in the second half and Taron Downey sparked a key run as 15th-ranked Wake Forest defeated Hodge and North Carolina State, 73-58, for its fourth straight win.
The game was billed as a matchup between Howard and Hodge, the leading scorers in the ACC, and drew numerous NBA scouts. Howard started slowly, got rolling in the second half and helped blanket Hodge throughout. Hodge fouled out with 13 points and five rebounds.
"Ad infinitum he's (Howard) been our bell cow," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said. "He has tremendous passion and he has an abhorrence of losing and I think that's had a ripple effect on our team. He doesn't like to talk about it much, but he raises our level of play with his actions."
Downey scored four points to trigger an 8-0 run that put Wake Forest (16-2, 6-2 ACC) ahead for good at 57-49 with 8:24 left.
All that was left was for Howard to put an exclamation point on the victory, and the senior swingman complied with 76 seconds remaining. He used a crossover dribble to get past Wolfpack freshman Cameron Bennerman and threw down a vicious two-handed slam for a 72-56 cushion.
Downey's 3-pointer that just beat the shot clock opened a 74-61 lead with 4:51 to go.
"It felt like everybody was clicking on all cylinders," Howard said. "The rim just looked bigger in the second half, and everybody was making shots."
Wake Forest won its 13th straight home game and its seventh in a row against North Carolina State (12-6, 5-3), which fell to 1-4 on the road. The seven-game run is the longest for the Demon Deacons in the series.
Hodge made just 3-of-13 shots and missed all five 3-point attempts. The ACC's leading scorer had been averaging over 22 points per game in his last three contests.
"The real key tonight was part way through the second half where we had a difficult time getting the ball in the basket," NC State coach Herb Sendek said. "You have to give credit to Wake Forest. We didn't capitalize on our opportunities, and on the road that won't get it done."
Howard also ripped down 12 boards as Wake Forest, which has outrebounded every opponent, held a 34-23 edge on the glass. The Demon Deacons also used beefy freshman Eric Williams to exploit the Wolfpack inside and held a 38-22 advantage in points in the paint.
Williams made 7-of-10 shots and scored 10 of his 16 points in the first half, and Jamaal Levy scored all 11 points over the first 20 minutes. Wake Forest shot a season-high 56 percent (27-of-48).
"We needed someone to step up in the first half," Howard said. "(Williams) will keep learning and the rest of the freshmen, too. The more they learn, the further we will go in the ACC and in the NCAAs. He played like a man tonight. He knew what he wanted to do and he really finished his shots."
NC State had the better of play in the first half and Hodge scored five straight points, including a three-point play on which he was fouled by Howard, to start a 12-0 burst. Levi Watkins' 3-pointer capped it and gave the Wolfpack their largest lead at 31-24 with 3:15 to go before halftime.
But Hodge cooled in the second half, misfiring on 7-of-8 shots. His final basket came off an offensive rebound and forged the game's final tie at 49-49 with under 11 minutes to play.
Clifford Crawford, a Winston-Salem native, led NC State with 19 points and Watkins came off the bench for 11. The Wolfpack shot just 35 percent (9-of-26) in the second half as they were flustered by the Demon Deacons' primary use of zone defense.
"That was a classic act of desperation," Prosser said. "We weren't stopping them man-to-man in the first half. They have the kind of guys who can beat you off the ball."
Marcus Melvin, who entered shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc, was just 1-of-8 as the Wolfpack clicked at 23 percent (6-of-26).
"They are very good," Sendek said. "They have a marquee player in Josh Howard, they have great size inside. Their record speaks for itself. Wake just made plays at the end of the shot clock and played a very good game."
The Demon Deacons improved to 6-1 since freshman starting point guard Justin Gray was lost to a broken jaw in a loss to Duke on January 12.
Wake Forest is 6-2 at the halfway point in ACC play, its best mark since a 7-1 start in the 1996-97 season.