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Updated: Friday, March 11, 2005 11:29 PM EST
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No Carolina St 81, (3) Wake Forest 65

WASHINGTON (Ticker) -- With Wake Forest's Chris Paul watching from the bench, Julius Hodge exacted some revenge for both himself and North Carolina State.

Hodge scored 22 points and Ilian Evtimov added 18 as the Wolfpack avenged a crushing last-second defeat five days ago to No. 3 Wake Forest and advanced to the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament with an 81-65 victory.

In its regular-season finale Sunday, North Carolina State outplayed Wake Forest all game before losing, 55-53, on Paul's last-second runner. In that game, Hodge was punched below the belt by Paul, a play that was missed by the officials. Deeming that act inappropriate, Wake Forest suspended one of the nation's top players for this contest.

"It was helpful with such a short turnaround that we played Wake Forest in the last game of the season so a lot of preparation was fresh in their minds," North Carolina State coach Herb Sendek said. "Since we played them last Sunday, it wasn't like we had to start from scratch. I think that worked to our favor."

Looking over at the Demon Deacons' bench numerous times, Hodge lifted North Carolina State (19-12) into a semifinal matchup against either Duke or Virginia on Saturday. After scoring 13 points in the first half, Hodge snapped a 38-38 tie early in the second half with a three-point play.

"My focus was to continue with our great defensive pressure and to win," Hodge said. "We had more than enough incentive. It wasn't about anyone else except for NC State. That's what we play for, what's on the front of our jerseys."

After Wake Forest (26-5) responded with six straight points for a 44-41 lead with 17:29 to play, NC State went on a 10-0 run over the next four minutes. Andrew Brackman scored six points during the spurt.

Evtimov, who finished with five 3-pointers, hit consecutive shots from the arc for a 61-48 lead with 10:15 to play. The Demon Deacons got no closer than eight points thereafter.

Hodge, who patted Paul on the back after the game, made 9-of-14 shots and grabbed eight rebounds. Cameron Bennerman scored 17 points and Brackman 16 for the Wolfpack, who improved to 6-2 in their last eight games, possibly cementing an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

"We maintained all along it would be far better to play our way in than talk our way in," Sendek said.

Behind a sizzling start from 3-point range by Hodge and Evtimov, NC State jumped to an early lead. Evtimov sandwiched two 3-pointers in between a shot from the arc from Hodge for a 22-14 lead with 11:40 remaining in the first half.

"Our start to the game was great," said Hodge, whose team made 6-of-13 3-pointers in the first half. "Guys were hitting open shots and getting to the line and putting it in. Everybody did their jobs."

Wake Forest answered with a 12-5 run, including eight straight points by leading scorer Justin Gray to close within 27-26 with 8:07 to play. The Demon Deacons went ahead, 38-35, on Vytas Danelius' layup with 83 seconds remaining, but Hodge hit a 3-pointer with seven seconds left to tie the contest heading into the break.

The Demon Deacons, who shot 55 percent (16-of-29) in the first half, missed eight of their first 11 shots in the second half and finished 40 percent (8-of-20) over the final 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, the Wolfpack shot 53 percent (16-of-30) and made 9-of-10 free throws after halftime to move within two wins of their first ACC tournament title since 1987.

Gray and Eric Williams scored 17 points apiece for Wake Forest, which may have cost itself a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament while falling to 3-8 in its last 11 ACC tournament games.

"I don't know. Those guys on the committee are pretty much basketball guys," said Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser about the Demon Deacons' chances for a No. 1 seed. "We won 10 of our last 12. .... You wouldn't think after 31 games it would come down to 40 minutes. We beat them two out of three, but they got this one."

Starting in place of Paul at point guard, Taron Downey scored eight points on 3-of-9 shooting with four assists. Paul averages 14.6 points and 6.6 assists.

"We had guys capable of winning the game," Prosser said. "I'm not going to sit here and talk about people who didn't play."

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