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Updated: Saturday, March 6, 2004 5:00 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(19) No Carolina St 81, (11) Wake Forest 70

WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Freshman Engin Atsur's shooting helped North Carolina State earn its best Atlantic Coast Conference finish since the 1988-89 campaign.

Atsur drained a career-high five 3-pointers and scored 17 points as the shorthanded 19th-ranked Wolfpack clinched second place in the ACC with an 81-70 triumph over No. 11 Wake Forest.

North Carolina State (19-8, 11-5) earned its highest finish since the 1988-89 squad won the regular-season crown. The Wolfpack ended a six-game losing streak in Winston-Salem despite playing their second straight game without shooting guard Scooter Sherrill.

Atsur, who hails from Turkey, picked up the slack with his work from outside. He capped an 11-0 tear that gave the Wolfpack, who had lost two straight, the lead for good with a 3-pointer for a 49-42 advantage.

"We had a tough week and it's only Saturday," Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek said. "We lost Sunday at home to North Carolina, and lost one of our starting guards in the second half. Then we took it on the chin Wednesday. But we responded as well as anyone could hope or expect today."

After Wake Forest (19-8, 9-7) pulled within 65-60 on two foul shots by Justin Gray with just over four minutes to go, Atsur answered with a 3-pointer and Julius Hodge added a layup to restore a 10-point bulge.

Gray scored 23 points to lead the Demon Deacons, who lost their second straight following a six-game winning streak. Eric Williams added 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting, but it was Wake Forest's poor defensive effort that betrayed it.

"I think there are a legion - we have a lot of defensive concerns," said Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser when asked about the defensive problems. "Our help-side defense isn't very good. There's a lot of fundamental defensive errors we're making."

N.C. State shot 54 percent (27-of-50), including a 12-of-23 effort from the arc. Atsur and Cameron Bennerman - who started for Sherrill - combined to make 11-of-17 shots.

"Aside from the score, I couldn't be more proud of their character," Sendek said. "They did a terrific job of getting ready to play." The Demon Deacons allowed Virginia to shoot 61 percent in the second half of Tuesday's 84-82 loss.

Hodge scored 17 points and Bennerman added 16 as the Wolfpack placed all of their starters in double figures. Marcus Melvin added 12 points and seven boards for the Wolfpack, who swept the Demon Deacons for the first time since the 1988-89 season.

"You want to win all the in-state games against the Dukes, the Carolinas and the States," Gray said. "That gives you bragging rights. You don't want to ever be swept. Now they can brag all they want."


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