WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest alternated between thrilling and ragged in its debut as the nation's second-ranked team Monday.
Fortunately the Demon Deacons had Chris Paul to get them through it.
Paul scored 25 points and six assists to lift the Demon Deacons past George Washington 97-76 in the Preseason NIT.
Justin Gray had 18 points and seven steals and Vytas Danelious added 17 points for the Demon Deacons, who advanced to a second-round home game Thursday against Virginia Commonwealth, which beat American 82-76 in overtime Monday.
George Washington tried several halfcourt and fullcourt trapping defenses, hoping to force Paul the leading vote-getter on The Associated Press preseason All-America team to give the ball up.
When they failed, Paul made them pay by spinning through double teams, penetrating into the lane and finding open teammates.
The Demon Deacons led by 14 points early in the second half, but struggled to put away the Colonials (0-1). George Washington hit eight 3-pointers to hang around, closing to 75-70 on a 3 from Carl Elliott midway through the second half.
But Paul made sure the Demon Deacons did not disappoint their rowdy crowd, leading a 10-2 charge that finally gave them a working margin in the final minutes.
After Danelius hit a shot in the lane, Paul drove the length of the court and hit a double-pump layup for a 79-70 lead. He added two free throws after drawing the fifth foul on Pops Mensah-Bonsu then corralled a loose ball in the backcourt and found Eric Williams alone for a slam and an 85-72 lead with 4:42 left.
The Colonials got no closer than 11 points the rest of the way.
Wake Forest won its 11th straight season opener despite poor free-throw shooting, shaky ballhandling and defense that occasionally bordered on porous.
At times, the Demon Deacons looked like the high-scoring team picked to win the Atlantic Coast Conference. They shot 56 percent for the game and were most effective when Paul got out in transition.
At other times, they struggled with the Colonials' halfcourt traps and had trouble stopping dribble penetration. They also went just 22-for-34 from the line and committed 20 turnovers.
T.J. Thompson scored 16 points and hit five 3-pointers to lead George Washington.
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