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Saturday, March 11, 2006

No. 3 Duke Advances To ACC Finals With 78-66 Win Over Wake Forest

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - With J.J. Redick hobbled by a knee injury, freshmen Greg Paulus and Josh McRoberts stepped in to carry Duke to familiar territory - the final of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Paulus had a career-high 18 points, McRoberts added 13 and the third-ranked Blue Devils survived a tense, emotional game to beat Wake Forest 78-66 Saturday.

It's only the second time this season that both of the first-year players reached double figures in points.

Redick, the ACC's iron man who averages more than 37 minutes of playing time, left for about 4 minutes in the first half after he fell trying to draw a charge. He went to the locker room before returning with a black knee brace, but noticeably limped his way to 20 points on 6-of-17 from the floor.

Of course, he was healthy enough to drive by defender Michael Drum for a three-point play with 1:35 remaining to give Duke (29-3) a 77-63 lead. Wake Forest finally was done at that point.

Eric Williams had 23 points and 12 rebounds for the Demon Deacons (17-16), the first No. 12 seed in the 52-year history of the tournament thanks to expansion. They still became the first last-place team to win two games in the event since Virginia in 1977 and solidified their hold on an NIT bid.

Justin Gray added 15 points and six assists for Wake Forest.

The Blue Devils have bigger hopes, including a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and a return trip to the Greensboro Coliseum for the first two rounds. They snapped a two-game losing streak with an 80-76 victory over Miami a day earlier in the quarterfinals, and move on to play the winner of the North Carolina-Boston College matchup.

To get there, they had to withstand another spirited effort from Wake Forest. An 8-0 run in the first half that coincided with Redick's return gave Duke a 10-point lead, and coach Mike Krzyzewski punctuated the moment by turning to the fans behind the bench and imploring them to cheer.

The move might have backfired. The Deacons suddenly were the inspired team, with Gray leading the charge back into the game. He did a great Redick impersonation with 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions, the final one coming after Chris Ellis leveled Sean Dockery with a screen near midcourt.

When Drum converted a steal into a breakaway layup, the game suddenly was tied 33-all. Redick made 1-of-2 on the other end to put the Blue Devils back in front before Ellis swished a 3 from the corner to give Wake Forest its first lead since 2-0.

Duke then ran the shot clock down and allowed Gray to mockingly lead his teammates in slapping the floor, a trademark of Coach K's defense. It worked, too, as Williams blocked a drive by Redick right before the end of the half.

Gray walked off the court with his hand held to his ear, basking in the cheers from the sellout crowd full.

The good times didn't last. Redick's 3-pointer soon after halftime gave the Blue Devils the lead for good, and McRoberts figured prominently in the decisive spurt down the stretch. He blocked a shot by Drum, slammed home a miss from Redick, then added a steal to complete a fantastic couple of minutes.

When he used a nifty pass from Paulus for another dunk, the lead was 69-55.

Paulus made all but one of his nine free throws and added five assists to carry Duke into the final once again. It has won six of the previous seven ACC tournaments.

Wake Forest's Eric Williams, right, blocks a shot by Duke's J.J. Redick in the first half during a semifinal Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament game Saturday, March 11, 2006, in Greensboro, N.C. (AP Photo/Sara D. Davis)

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