RALEIGH, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Wake Forest freshman Chris Paul was oblivious to the pressure of his first NCAA Tournament game.
Paul turned in some clutch play down the stretch as the fourth-seeded Demon Deacons held off feisty No. 13 Virginia Commonwealth for a 79-78 victory in the first round of the East Rutherford Region.
Wake Forest (20-9) advanced to meet No. 12 Manhattan in the second round. The Demon Deacons trailed by as many as six points in the second half in a game that was close most of the way.
With the score tied at 73-73, Paul kept his composure when Virginia Commonwealth tried to pressure him and found an open Jamaal Levy on the baseline. Levy's dunk gave the Demon Deacons the lead for good with 64 seconds to go.
Virginia Commonwealth (23-8) had a pair of chances to tie, but Domonic Jones missed a wild runner and freshman B.A. Walker came up with the rebound only to commit a turnover.
Paul, who finished with 22 points, drained four foul shots in the final 11 seconds to offset a basket by Jones and 3-pointer by Walker for the Rams' final points.
"He found a way to beat us," said Rams coach Jeff Capel, the youngest coach in Division I at 29 years old. "He's difficult to guard. He's one of the best guards in college basketball. Forget that he's a freshman. He's one of the best."
The Rams appeared poised for the upset after Nick George's 3-point play with 7:44 remaining. But the Demon Deacons provided a glimpse of how lethal their three-guard offense can be when Justin Gray, Taron Downey and Paul drained consecutive 3-pointers to put Wake Forest back on top.
"It was huge on those back-to-back-to-back threes," Paul said. "As soon as the game was over and we got to the locker room I told the guys that it was huge."
"I thought we guarded better once they took that six point lead," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said. "I think a sense of urgency that we had the first eight minutes of the game reappeared."
Jones, the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year, scored 22 points to lead VCU, which was making its first NCAA appearance since 1996. The Rams drained 11-of-20 3-pointers to keep the pressure on the Demon Deacons.
"We never found an answer for Jones," Prosser said. "I thought he played exceedingly well."
Facing a 37-34 halftime deficit, Wake Forest started to pound the ball inside and got the results it wanted. The Demon Deacons shot a blistering 64 percent (14-of-22) in the second half and fouled out Rams big men Troy Godwin and Derrick Reid.
Wake held commanding advantages of 40-24 in points in the paint and 14-2 on the break. Paul handed out seven assists and Gray netted 15 points for the Demon Deacons, who held an early 11-point lead.
Wake avoided a fourth straight loss, but struggled once again on the defensive end. The Demon Deacons allowed VCU to shoot 51 percent (29-of-57), the third time in four games it has allowed an opponent to top 50 percent.