WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Raymond Felton helped North Carolina breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Felton drained a critical 3-pointer with 51 seconds to go as the 19th-ranked Tar Heels held on for a 79-73 victory over Atlantic Coast Conference rival No. 15 Wake Forest.
North Carolina (14-6, 4-5 ACC) never trailed but had a 16-point lead whittled to 70-68 after Jamaal Levy's layup with 2:37 left. The Demon Deacons had a chance to tie on their next possession, but freshman Kyle Visser missed a short bank shot with the shot clock running down.
The Tar Heels took over, but their offense was going nowhere until Felton used a screen from David Noel to nail his 3-pointer over Taron Downey for a five-point edge with 53 seconds remaining.
Felton missed his first five 3-pointers but his last one helped North Carolina snap a 10-game ACC road skid.
"This is a first step," Felton said. "I always knew we could do it."
"Raymond Felton picked a good time to hit his one 3-pointer of the game," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said.
Sean May collected 18 points and 10 rebounds for North Carolina, which put Thursday's home overtime loss to Duke behind it and ended a five-game losing streak against Wake Forest.
Coach Roy Williams managed the short turnaround between the games by resting his top seven players from practice Friday. He had them serve as coaches for a 5-on-5 matchup between the rest of the team.
May's effort helped the Tar Heels to a 38-34 edge on the glass, including 17 offensive rebounds.
"It's going to be important for us every game," May said. "It was important against Duke when they had that early 10-point lead (that) we kept cracking away at the glass."
The Tar Heels rode Melvin Scott's hot start to race to an early cushion. Scott scored 14 of his season-high 20 points over the first 12 minutes, including a 3-pointer for a 34-18 lead with 8:01 left.
"In the first half, he was really all the offense we had," Williams said.
Wake Forest (13-6, 4-5) crawled within 38-33 at the break, but North Carolina maintained a working margin until the final minutes. Felton was the catalyst, scoring 17 points, making all eight free throws and not committing a turnover.
The Tar Heels sank 20-of-22 from the line.
The game was a rematch of Wake Forest's classic 119-114 triple-overtime win in Chapel Hill on December 20. The Tar Heels were shredded in transition in that one but limited the Demon Deacons to nine fast-break points and harrassed them into 7-of-23 shooting from the arc.
"The tempo was definitely slower, but we do like to run the ball as well," Williams said. "We were much better today with our transition defense."