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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Wake Forest is figuring out how to finish. North Carolina State is having trouble getting started.
Codi Miller-McIntyre scored 23 points and the Demon Deacons built a huge lead then held off a comeback to beat the Wolfpack 88-84 on Tuesday night.
Devin Thomas added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Demon Deacons (11-12, 3-7 Atlantic Coast Conference), who built a 24-point lead in the second half. Then they did just enough to hold on as N.C. State — as it had done less than a week earlier — frantically rallied after a terrible start before falling short.
"You never apologize for winning," Wake Forest coach Danny Manning said. "We did enough to hang on, yes, there's some things we need to tighten up and get better at. But for the guys to continue to stay the course and grind it out, we're happy with that."
Wake Forest had lost a series of close games before fighting off Virginia Tech on Saturday for a 73-70 win.
"We just had to stick together and stay focused," Miller-McIntyre said. "I believe the last game we played showed us how we have to stick together when it comes down to those last four minutes in a game."
Anthony "Cat" Barber's three-point play brought the Wolfpack (14-10, 5-6) to within 87-84 with 11.2 seconds left, but freshman Cornelius Hudson hit a free throw with 9.2 seconds to go then Miller-McIntyre stole Des Lee's pass on the final possession to seal the win.
Barber finished with a career-high 28 points, and had to carry the load most of the night.
Leading scorer Trevor Lacey added 19 and Ralston Turner had 12, though much of that production came as N.C. State tried to dig out from a horrific start — one that infuriated coach Mark Gottfried so much he angrily slammed a clipboard to the court during a first-half timeout.
A week after trailing 36-13 at home to Clemson, N.C. State trailed 51-30 by halftime. The Wolfpack got within three against the Tigers before falling 68-57, then did it again Tuesday.
"Even within the game, we can be great or we can be bad," Gottfried said. "We're everywhere right now."
After N.C. State used a 20-2 run to claw to within 76-71, Miller-McIntyre hit two free throws then ended a six-minute basket drought with a desperately needed shot in the lane with 4:04 left that helped maintain his team's fragile hold on the game.
Wake Forest shot a season-high 57 percent for the game, though the Demon Deacons managed just two field goals in the final 10 minutes.
N.C. State: N.C. State finished with a 42-35 rebounding advantage and scored 21 second-chance points. ... It's the first back-to-back 20-point games for Anthony Barber, who had 23 in Saturday's win against Georgia Tech.
Wake Forest: Wake Forest took its biggest lead at 64-40 on two free throws from Codi Miller-McIntyre with 13:33 left. ... Wake Forest shot 66 percent (19-for-29) from the field and 9-for-15 from 3-point range in the opening half.
N.C. State looked to be building toward a fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance after upsetting then-unbeaten Duke on Jan. 11, but it has lost five of seven since.
"For what we're trying to do," leading scorer Trevor Lacey said, "we're not helping ourselves by losing. ... We don't need any more."
Devin Thomas and Wolfpack freshman Cody Martin each got late technical fouls after getting tangled in the paint. The play ended with Thomas on the floor and some shoving before the teams were separated with 40.5 seconds left.
N.C. State hosts No. 3 Virginia on Feb. 11.
Wake Forest travels to Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap