WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP)—Sixth-ranked Wake Forest needed nearly the entire first half to find its intensity Tuesday night.
Once it did, the Demon Deacons were headed for an easy win.
Eric Williams scored 17 points and Wake Forest used a 29-1 run spanning halftime to beat North Carolina A&T 91-67.
Trent Strickland added 13 points for the Demon Deacons (8-0), who won their first eight games for the third time in the last four seasons. Wake Forest, which has its highest ranking since reaching No. 6 in January 2001, has won 21 straight home games.
The Demon Deacons had not played since beating North Carolina 119-114 in three overtimes on Dec. 20. The nation’s highest-scoring team, which averaged 92.3 points per game, showed some rust from the 10-day layoff.
The Aggies (0-9) trailed by three late in the first half before the Demon Deacons displayed the up-tempo offense and aggressive defense that carried them to a win against the Tar Heels.
“A&T came out with a fire that we really wasn’t expecting,” said Williams, who went 5-for-8 from the field and had six rebounds. “It took a while for us to adapt to it. They came out and played like they weren’t scared. I think it kind of shocked us how hard they played.”
Sean Booker scored 19 points to lead the Aggies, who have lost nine games by an average margin of 35 points. North Carolina A&T, which went 1-26 last year, has not gotten within 19 points of an opponent this season.
The Aggies finished with 27 turnovers, but surpassed their season-high of 63 points set in a loss to High Point on Saturday.
“Our goal was to get to 70 points tonight,” Aggies coach Jerry Eaves said. “That’s what I wanted to accomplish with my team. We got close.”
By the end of the game, Wake Forest’s biggest concern was for the health of Justin Gray, who sprained his left ankle while handling the ball near midcourt with 7:40 left. Officials said X-rays were negative and that he would be re-evaluated Wednesday.
Wake Forest led 47-40 at halftime and increased the lead by getting better shots and playing solid defense to start the second half.
After shooting 39 percent in the first half—which included a 2-for-11 effort from 3-point range—the Demon Deacons pushed the ball inside. Their first five field goals came close to the basket, including two shots in the lane from Williams and drives by Strickland, Taron Downey and Jamaal Levy.
As the offense clicked, the defense got hands in passing lanes and made life difficult for the anemic Aggies offense. North Carolina A&T didn’t get its first point in the half until Greg Roberts’ free throw cut the deficit to 59-41 with 13:49 to play.
The lead grew to 72-41 before the Aggies finally hit a field goal, getting a three-point play from Chris Ferguson with 9:57 to play. Before that, North Carolina A&T had missed its first eight shots and had eight turnovers in the half.
Still, the Aggies finished with 20 offensive rebounds—a statistic that didn’t please Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser.
“Give credit to Coach Eaves and their kids,” Prosser said. “It gave us a lot of things to work on in our never-ending effort to become a better basketball team.”
The Aggies kept the game close early with steady long-distance shooting. They went 6-for-11 on 3-pointers in the first half, getting two 3s each from Booker, Michael Hayes and Steven Koger.
Booker hit a 3 from the left side with 1:08 to play in the half, pulling the Aggies within 43-40. But the Aggies didn’t score again until Roberts’ free throw midway through the second half.