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Updated: Thursday, March 6, 2003 12:57 AM EST
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(10) Wake Forest 75, North Carolina 60
North Carolina Tar Heels
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Wake Forest Demon Deacons
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WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Ticker) -- In the final home game of an illustrious career at Wake Forest, Josh Howard didn't disappoint.

On an injured ankle, Howard scored 17 of his 24 points in the second half as the 10th-ranked Demon Deacons clinched a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title with a 75-60 win over North Carolina.

After missing eight of his first 11 shots, Howard got hot in the second half and helped Wake Forest (22-4,12-3 ACC) pull away from the overmatched Tar Heels, who hung tough for the first 30 minutes.

"I was more worried about the butterflies than the ankle, especially in the first half," Howard said. "But I just continued to fight through it and my teammates stepped up as they have all season.

"It's been a wonderful four year, and I appreciate everything everyone has done for me."

After North Carolina pulled within 52-47 on freshman David Noel's tip-in with just under 10 minutes left, Howard scored eight points in a 10-2 burst, which he capped with a 3-pointer at the 7:27 mark for a 62-49 advantage.

Wake Forest now leads Maryland by one game for first place in the ACC, with Duke 1 1/2 back. The Demon Deacons can capture their first outright conference regular-season title since 1962 with a win at North Carolina State this weekend.

Jawad Williams scored 17 points for the Tar Heels (15-14, 5-10), who lost their eighth straight on the road.

Howard also grabbed nine boards to pace the Demon Deacons to a 40-28 advantage on the boards.

Freshman Justin Gray scored 16 points and Jamaal Levy added 13, eight rebounds, five steals and four assists as Wake Forest went undefeated at home for the first time since 1995-96 with its 17th victory at the Joel Coliseum.

"The crowd has been good all year, and we've especially enjoyed the crescendo to end the season," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said. "I think our students have been tremendous, and one of our long-term goals is to make this a tough place to play that is conducive to a home crowd and a home-court advantage."

The Demon Deacons were unable to put much distance between themselves and the Tar Heels in the first half. Williams scored 10 points to keep North Carolina close in the opening period, and Wake Forest took a 37-33 lead into the locker room.

The Tar Heels challenged in the second half as well, but after freshman Rashad McCants' bucket pulled them within 44-42 with 17 minutes to go, Gray sank a basket to ignite a 7-0 run.

After Howard's 3-pointer established a 62-49 cushion, the Demon Deacons did not relax. Their lead grew as large as 72-54 after Gray's hoop with three minutes to go.

"It's frustrating to give such a great effort and come up short," North Carolina coach Matt Doherty said. "I'm proud of the guys. They played hard and gave us a possibility to win against a great team. We just came up short."

Wake Forest shot 49 percent (27-of-55) from the field, including 7-of-14 from 3-point range while winning its fifth straight game.

Jackie Manuel scored 12 points and McCants had 10 for the Tar Heels, who shot 40 percent (22-of-55) and committed 18 turnovers.

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