WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Ticker) -- In a rematch of a first-round thriller in the 2004 NCAA Tournament, No. 2 Wake Forest survived again.
Chris Paul led five players in double figures with 16 points as Wake Forest posted an 81-67 victory over Virginia Commonwealth in the second round of the Preseason NIT.
The Demon Deacons (2-0) edged the Rams, 79-78, in the NCAA Tournament last season before rolling to the Sweet 16. This time, a second-half run prevented any dramatics.
Paul led his team in scoring for the second straight game but did nearly all his damage from the line. After shooting 7-of-12 from the floor in Wake Forest's 97-76 win over George Washington on Monday, he had just one field goal vs. Virginia Commonwealth (1-1).
The sophomore standout made 14-of-15 free throws and had five of the Demon Deacons' 13 assists. With Wake Forest clinging to a 58-52 lead with less than 10 minutes remaining, Paul began a succession of trips to the line.
He made eight free throws to key a 14-4 run that gave Wake Forest a 16-point advantage with 5:49 left.
Demon Deacons coach Skip Prosser saw his team give a better defensive effort this time out vs. the Rams.
"They shot under 40 percent (in the second half) and I think that our defense was better for longer stretches," Prosser said. "We'll try to build on that. When we get stops, we can get spurts."
Justin Gray scored 14 points and Eric Williams, Jamaal Levy and Trent Strickland chipped in 10 apiece for Wake Forest, which will meet Providence in the semifinals November 24 at Madison Square Garden.
"I think (the game) helped us learn that we have to play for 40 minutes and keep our intensity up," said Strickland, who matched Williams with eight rebounds. "The teams we're playing are not bad at all and we're learning a lot from playing good teams."
After the Rams gained a 27-24 lead on a 9-0 run late in the first half, Gray spearheaded the game's decisive burst. He scored nine points during an 18-0 surge that helped the Demon Deacons grab a 44-35 halftime lead.
"The coach has been talking about it for a while," Williams said. "He's been saying that we can't go on a really big run and then be lackadaisical. The first couple minutes, we played hard and jumped on them early. They caught up during the middle of the first half and at the end, we tried to punch it to them again.
"That's what coach has been talking about and we have to be consistent about it."
Alexander Harper scored 17 points and Nick George added 14 for Virginia Commonwealth (1-1), which failed to get the win for coach Jeff Capel - who was 1-8 vs. Wake Forest during his playing career at Duke.
"When I played at Duke, they were really good and they're really good now," Capel said. "This is a great place to play college basketball."
Capel was pleased with his team's response to the road pressures.
"We knew Wake would attack us early," he said. "Our guys are not used to this type of atmosphere. In the NCAA Tournament, there were also Florida, Manhattan and Duke fans there. In the tournament, everyone gets behind the underdog."