CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- There are two givens nearing the halfway point of the ACC season -- No. 17 Wake Forest is the surprise team and Josh Howard is the favorite to win the league's player of the year award.
Howard had a career-high 32 points, including the go-ahead three-point play with 21 seconds left, as the Demon Deacons held off North Carolina 79-75 Sunday.
''He inspires his teammates. He wills them to win,'' Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said of Howard, who had 10 rebounds. ''The thing he amuses them with is courage.
''This is a tough venue to play in, but Josh wasn't having it,'' Prosser added. ''He gave us the courage, despite how well Carolina played, that we were going to figure out a way to win this game.''
The Demon Deacons (15-2, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) shot 65.4 percent in the second half, outrebounded the Tar Heels 47-30, and are off to their best start since going 18-1 in 1996-97.
''There were three preseasons polls out (for the ACC) and we were ranked sixth, seventh and eighth,'' senior Steve Lepore said. ''Coach Prosser reminds us of that every day. It makes it even better when somebody doesn't believe in you and you do something like we're doing.''
Howard was 11-for-20 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free throw line. His previous best outing was 31 points at Wisconsin earlier this season.
Meanwhile, the Tar Heels (11-9, 2-5) lost their season-high fourth straight despite placing five players in double figures for the first time since last February.
''I told the team they invest emotionally and there are no guarantees,'' North Carolina coach Matt Doherty said. ''You expose your guts to millions of people. It's like the old ABC thing: 'The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.' It's tough, but we've got to get back at it.''
The score was tied seven times over a 12-minute stretch in the second half, the last time when Jawad Williams, who led the Tar Heels with 22 points, made two free throws with 46 seconds left.
But the Demon Deacons went to their ace on their next possession and one of the ACC's best drivers made a move at the foul line on a defensive switch, made the hoop and was fouled by Byron Sanders.
''Coach is always talking about working on taking the hit and finishing,'' Howard said. ''I took the hit and finished. I know I don't really show it, but I'm ecstatic we won this game.''
Williams missed a 3-pointer on North Carolina's next possession with 12 seconds remaining, and Taron Downey made a free throw to seal it.
The Tar Heels missed 17 of 20 3-pointers in the first half to fall behind by as many as 10 points, but went 4-of-6 from beyond the arc to start the second half and took a 52-49 lead with 12:50 left on a steal and fastbreak dunk by Williams.
That set up the close finish as Wake Forest beat the Tar Heels for a third straight time for the first time since 1971.
''I guess guys will be talking about this when I get old,'' Howard said.
Doherty didn't start leading scorer Rashad McCants after a poor defensive game in a 20-point loss at Georgia Tech on Wednesday night.
And while McCants did score 13 points, he cost his team down the stretch. With the score tied 70-70 and under four minutes left, McCants missed two 3-pointers and stepped out of bounds on a baseline drive on a third possession.
''I talk about starting as a reward for different things and I preach defense, so I have to back it up,'' Doherty said when asked why McCants didn't start either half.
Florida State 75, No. 5 Duke 70
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Adam Waleskowski and Tim Pickett combined for six points in the final 20 seconds Sunday night as Florida State upset No. 5 Duke 75-70, the Seminoles' second home win over the Blue Devils in as many seasons.
Florida State (11-8, 2-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) handed the Blue Devils (14-3, 4-3) their third straight conference road loss.
Last season, the Seminoles shocked then-No. 1 Duke with a 77-76 victory that ended the defending national champions' 22-game winning streak.
Pickett's free throws gave Florida State a 73-70 lead with 9.9 seconds left. Duke's Chris Duhon slipped and fell in front of the Blue Devils bench, losing the ball with 6 seconds left and leading to the game-ending dunk by Waleskowski.
Pickett had 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists for Florida State, which made nine of its last 10 free throws.
Freshman J.J. Redick led Duke with 16 points.
No. 10 Maryland 85, Loyola, Md. 58
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Drew Nicholas scored eight of his 15 points during Maryland's game-opening 14-0 run and the Terrapins went on to their fifth straight victory.
Ryan Randle scored 17 points and Steve Blake had 10 assists for the Terrapins (14-4), who stretched their home winning streak to eight with their eighth straight win over Loyola.
Bernard Allen had 16 points for Loyola (4-15), which has lost four in a row and eight of nine.
Michigan St. 68, No. 13 Illinois 65
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Paul Davis and Alan Anderson each scored 15 points for the Spartans, who rallied from a big first-half deficit.
Michigan State trailed by 14 points with two minutes left in the first half and won the game by outscoring Illinois 9-3 over the final five minutes.
The Spartans (12-8, 4-4 Big Ten) have won two straight -- both against ranked teams -- after losing six of eight in their worst slump since 1996-97, Tom Izzo's second season as coach.
Brian Cook had 13 points for the Fighting Illini (15-4, 5-3), who had won three straight and seven of nine.
Southern California 91, No. 22 Oregon 76
LOS ANGELES -- Errick Craven scored 18 points and Greg Guenther added a career-high 16 as the Trojans ended the Ducks' five-game winning streak.
Southern California (8-9, 4-5 Pac-10) had lost three straight and five of six.
Luke Ridnour had 21 points for Oregon (15-5, 5-4) and Andre Joseph had 18.
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