RALEIGH, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Freshman Chris Paul is ushering in the best era of basketball at Wake Forest since Tim Duncan's departure.
Paul scored 29 points and added a key assist down the stretch as the fourth-seeded Demon Deacons held on for an 84-80 victory over gritty No. 12 Manhattan in the second round of the East Rutherford Region.
Wake Forest (21-9) is headed to the "Sweet 16" for the first time since the 1995-96 season. That was Duncan's junior season with the Demon Deacons, and Paul is quickly establishing himself as their best player since with another clutch performance.
"I think considering the platform, he played pretty well," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser joked. "Again, I wouldn't trade him for any point guard in the country. We just give him the ball and I will live with the consequences."
Manhattan (25-6) cut a 13-point halftime deficit to two on three occasions in the second half, the last at 82-80 when David Holmes made 2-of-3 from the line with 44 seconds to go. The Jaspers forced a held ball on the next possession, but the Demon Deacons retained possession.
Wake Forest inbounded in the corner to Paul, who was double-teamed before turning in the game's biggest play as he found an open Trent Strickland under the basket for a dunk that sealed the win.
"Coach drew up a great play in the huddle designed for me to come to the corner and try to make a play with five seconds left," Paul said. "Fortunately, Strickland popped open and we got him the ball."
The Demon Deacons will face top-seeded St. Joseph's on Thursday.
Paul's 16 points helped Wake Forest build a 48-35 halftime bulge. Led by plucky guard Luis Flores, Manhattan never quit and quickly got back into the game, pulling within 50-46 with 17:23 to go.
While Flores shined in scoring 20 points, Paul absolutely stole the show. Paul made 10-of-14 shots and also added eight rebounds, six assists and three steals while committing only one turnover in 38 minutes in the fast-paced game.
"Chris Paul was spectacular," Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez said. "We had no answer for him."
With Paul directing traffic, Wake Forest shot 51 percent (29-of-57). The Demon Deacons also got a huge lift from their bench with reserves Taron Downey and Vytas Danelius combining for 22 points.