Jan. 3, 2004
By DAVID DROSCHAK
AP Sports Writer
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - The nation's highest scoring team turned to its defense Saturday to remain unbeaten.
No. 6 Wake Forest overcame a miserable start, getting 18 points from Chris Paul and forcing 19 turnovers in a 70-61 win over New Mexico.
"Usually we're at our best when our defense creates our offense," said Paul, who had five steals. "When we do that we're one of the best teams in the country."
The Demon Deacons (9-0) extended their home winning streak to 22 and got strong play from Taron Downey, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half.
Eric Williams added 14 and Justin Gray 11 for the Demon Deacons, who shot 58 percent in the second period. However, Wake Forest's offense struggled for the first half.
"I told the players after the game that everybody expects them to play like a No. 6 team," coach Skip Prosser said. "We have to put that out of our minds and make Skip happy. If they make me happy everything will take care of itself.
"It's not as if we started out the year saying, `1-2-3, let's be No. 6,"' Prosser added. "We want to be as good as we can be every game."
Meanwhile, the Lobos (7-4) saw their five-game winning streak end and their road losing streak reach 19 games.
"I'm really impressed with Wake Forest," said New Mexico coach Ritchie McKay. "They are a nightmare to prepare for because they have such a balanced team."
The Demon Deacons started the second half 8-for-10, but still couldn't shake the Lobos, who took a 47-46 lead when DeVries made a reverse layup. It was only the second time in nine games Wake Forest has trailed in the second half.
However, leading 59-55 with 4:24 left, Wake Forest got a 3-pointer from Gray, a 10-foot jumper by Jammal Levy and a layup by Paul to get a working margin.
"They kept the pressure on," McKay said. "They are going to make a run on you and you better have the audacity to believe that you can handle the pressure. We didn't do that."
The Demon Deacons didn't get their first double-digit margin until Paul made two free throws with 2:26 remaining and finished 22 points below their average.
"I love Chris Paul," McKay said. "He's a phenomenal player. He might be the best guard I've seen since I've been a head coach."
Meanwhile, New Mexico managed just 11 points over the final 8:16.
Wake Forest missed 17 of its first 22 shots and finished with its worst shooting half of the season at 31 percent.
Still, New Mexico couldn't forge a first-half lead because of 13 turnovers and poor shooting. The Lobos averaged just 13.4 giveaways a game during their recent winning streak.
Most of Wake Forest's early offense came from Paul, who hit four 3-pointers in the opening 14? minutes.
Paul had taken just 23 3-pointers heading into Saturday's game, but took six behind the arc against the Lobos.
"I've been getting in the gym a little early and working out with the coaches and that's really helped because the more shots you get up that builds confidence," Paul said.
An ankle injury kept Wake Forest forward Vytas Danelius sidelined for a third straight game.