WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Freshman Devin Thomas grew by leaps and bounds Tuesday night as he led Wake Forest to an 86-84 win over 18th-ranked North Carolina State at Joel Coliseum.
Thomas scored a career-high 25 points and tied his career high with 14 rebounds as the Demon Deacons battled all the way back from a 16-point, first-half deficit to pull off one of the biggest wins in coach Jeff Bzdelik's three seasons.
"All due respect to those scouting services, but I watched Devin Thomas play in probably every single one of his summer season games," Bzdelik said. "I saw that young man get 44 points, 23 rebounds in a high school game. He just plays with unbelievable passion."
The rest of the Deacons did pretty well in the passion department Tuesday, too.
The Deacons trailed by 12 at halftime but turned up their defensive pressure, took away the Wolfpack's outside game and did enough to improve to 10-8 overall, 3-3 in the ACC.
Wake Forest senior C.J. Harris, who went out with a head injury for a crucial four-minute stretch, returned and hit one of two free throws with 22.2 seconds left to make it an 84-82 game.
McKie sank two free throws with 3.4 seconds left for the Deacons to secure it. The Deacons had the ball with 1.2 seconds left and got the ball in-bounds to secure the win.
Before McKie was fouled, N.C. State's Rodney Purvis had an open look on a 15-footer but missed, and C.J. Leslie had a chance at tip-in but couldn't convert.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried gave credit to Wake Forest for its inspired late effort.
"I thought the difference was I don't think we defended nearly as well as we could in the second half," Gottfried said. "You have to give them credit."
Point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre added 15 points for the Deacons, and Harris scored 10.
Purvis led the Wolfpack (15-4, 4-2) with 18 points. T.J. Warren added 14 points, with Richard Howell, Leslie and Lorenzo Brown each scoring 13. Leslie committed his fourth foul early in the second half and missed a long stretch of the game but nearly pulled the Wolfpack back after they had fallen behind by 10 with 4:05 to go.
Thomas, however, and the Deacons never wavered down the stretch.
"The energy in the building decreased," Thomas said about being down 16 in the first half. "As we kept chipping at the lead, the energy increased and then we got the lead and then C.J. (Harris) went out and they chipped into our lead. But we got a good defensive stop and pulled out the win."
In the first half, the Wolfpack enjoyed as much as a 16-point lead. The Deacons cut the lead to 41-31 late in the half, but a 9-1 run fueled by Warren and Purvis gave the Wolfpack a 47-31 advantage with 1:07 to go before the break.
Warren scored off a pass from Brown after a missed shot by the Deacons' Tyler Cavanaugh, one of seven fastbreak baskets for the Wolfpack in the first half.
Midway through the first half, the Wolfpack took a 29-14 lead after Warren scored on a layup off a pass from Brown, who had seven assists in the first half.
Purvis echoed what his coach said about a lack of defensive intensity in the second half.
"Defensive let-ups," Purvis said. "At halftime, I think we got a little bit too relaxed. We were playing really well in the first half. We were playing really good team defense, but in the second half we kind of began to let up."
The Deacons, who are now 3-0 at home in the ACC, celebrated with their students, who rushed the court after the game was over.
"Our fans were really behind us and never gave up on us," Bzdelik said, "especially when were down by 16 at one time, the fans were there for us."
Also there for the Deacons at the end was Harris, who sat out for a stretch after getting poked in the eye.
Harris said he had blurred vision for a while, but he was able to get back in the game with 30 seconds left. He got a key rebound and was fouled and hit one of two free throws.
"That was unbelievable," Harris said about the win. "Seeing all of that out there on the court was something else."
NOTES: Wake Forest snapped a five-game losing streak to N.C. State. ... The Wolfpack played its second game in three days for the third time this season. N.C. State was coming off a 66-62 win over Clemson at home on Sunday.... There are three players in the ACC with 100 or more career starts, including Wake Forest's Harris and N.C. State's Wood. Harris made his 101st career start, and Wood made his 120th career start. ... Gottfried has a keen interest in the Super Bowl thanks to a family connection. He is a second cousin of the two head coaches, Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers and John Harbaugh of the Ravens.