WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP)—Chris Paul is a polite, mild-mannered freshman off the court. That all changes once he gets the basketball in his hands.
Paul was nearly perfect on Sunday, making all but four shots while scoring a career-high 30 points to lead No. 20 Wake Forest to a 91-85 victory over No. 13 Cincinnati.
“He’s polite, deferential and a good student,” coach Skip Prosser said. “But the best thing about him is between the lines, he is a stone-cold killer. That’s a great thing to have in a basketball player.”
Paul made his first six shots of the game to help the Demon Deacons (15-6) beat the Bearcats (17-4) for the first time in six meetings.
He finished 10-of-14 from the field, made all three of his 3-point attempts and went 7-for-7 from the free throw line. He also had a career-high seven rebounds and added four assists.
“Coach just told me to really be aggressive,” he said. “And he said in the second half, the way Cincinnati was playing defense made it real open, so space the court out a little bit and he said that would give us great chances to drive.
“That’s what I did.”
Paul’s first miss didn’t come until midway through the second half when his shot was blocked, but he got the rebound and scored on a putback. He later embarrassed the Bearcats defense by driving untouched along the left baseline and easily scored on a layup to give Wake Forest a 73-63 lead.
“He took the ball at the goal anytime he wanted it,” coach Bob Huggins said. “He destroyed us.”
After the play, a disgusted Huggins briefly stared in disbelief before calling a timeout to scream at his players. But it didn’t help as Cincinnati lost for the third time in its last five games.
Still, Huggins said all was not lost for the Bearcats.
“How many people in the country do you think would trade us at 17-4?” he asked. “To me it’s rather amusing that there’s this notion that we’re in dire straits. If we are down and out, I am not sure why that is.”
Huggins, who had missed two days of practice and did not join the Bearcats until early Sunday morning because of fatigue and flu-like symptoms, said after the game only that he was “OK” and refused to discuss his illness.
The Bearcats pulled within six points several times late in the game, but gave up big baskets at inopportune times. Huggins made good on his promise to abandon the fullcourt press, leaving Cincinnati surprisingly vulnerable both inside and outside.
After Cincinnati cut it to 80-74, Paul drove through the lane and hung in the air until his defenders were out of the way for an easy layup and foul. He made the free throw for an 83-74 lead.
And when the Bearcats had pulled to 83-77 with 3:53 to play, they gave up an easy basket to Jamaal Levy and then a dunk by Trent Strickland.
Huggins chalked the lapses up to Cincinnati losing its poise and his players agreed.
“When we feel a little pressure, we let down,” said Tony Bobbitt, who led Cincinnati with 23 points. “Coach Hugs, his old guys never did that. We didn’t lay down, but we lost our poise a little bit.”
But Cincinnati didn’t quit, getting a 3-pointer from Bobbitt with 15 seconds to play to cut it to 91-85. The Bearcats called a timeout and finally pressed as Wake Forest tried to inbound the ball, but the Deacons beat it and ran out the clock.
Jason Maxiell added 15 points and James White scored 12 for Cincinnati.
Justin Gray scored 14 points for Wake Forest, while Taron Downey and Eric Williams each had 12 and Vytas Danelius added 10.
Cincinnati converted 12 early Wake Forest turnovers into a 12-point lead before the Demon Deacons switched strategy and made an effort to drive the ball inside. Since the Bearcats had abandoned the press, the layups came easy once Wake Forest began attacking.
“People don’t come back from 12 down against Cincinnati and we did,” Gray said. “That’s going to give us a lot of momentum for next week.”