-- WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -- Wake Forest struggled with turnovers, shaky ballhandling and poor free-throw shooting in its first game of the season. Fortunately for the second-ranked Demon Deacons, Chris Paul was there to help them through it. Paul scored 25 points and made several big plays in a decisive second-half run to send Wake Forest past George Washington 97-76 Monday night in the preseason NIT. "There's still some rough edges that we can smooth out," Paul said. "I think we played together tonight, but we still have a lot of work to do." Paul had six assists and three steals in 37 minutes despite being banged around by the physical Colonials defense, leading the Demon Deacons to a second-round home game Thursday against Virginia Commonwealth. Justin Gray added 18 points and seven steals for the Demon Deacons, and Vytas Danelius scored 17. Paul's effort was the highlight of a Wake Forest performance that followed a familiar pattern from last season. The Demon Deacons had four players score in double figures and shot 56 percent, but they had trouble on defense until switching to a triangle-and-two late in the game. Ultimately, the Demon Deacons did enough late to secure their 11th straight season-opening victory. George Washington (0-1) 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 the Colonials failed, Paul made them pay by spinning through double teams, penetrating into the lane and finding open teammates. He certainly paid for it. The sophomore was fouled several times while trying to bring the ball upcourt against the traps. He bruised his knee when he fell to the ground on a drive to the basket. At one point, he was even stepped on by teammate Kyle Visser after being knocked down under the basket. But no matter how many nicks and bruises he got, he told anyone who asked on the bench that he was OK. "I'm used to it now," Paul said. "That's just battle wounds. It's going to happen night in and night out." The Demon Deacons led by 14 early in the second half, but struggled to put away the Colonials. George Washington hit eight 3-pointers to hang around, closing to 75-70 on a 3 by 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 -- one of several Colonials who got into foul trouble thanks to Paul's penetration -- 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 the rest of the way. Paul was so good that George Washington coach Karl Hobbs started his postgame news conference by saying, "They said he is the best. And he is the best." "Paul just took the game over," Hobbs said. "He penetrated to the teeth of our defense. When they needed to make a big play, he was the one that made it." But even with Paul playing well, the Demon Deacons couldn't put the Colonials away until they finally got some defensive stops. Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said the team worked for the past month on improving its man defense, but he finally followed the advice of his staff and went with the gimmick defense with the 75-70 lead. Wake Forest allowed just two field goals the rest of the way. "We have the ability to score baskets," Prosser said. "How well we do ultimately will depend on our ability to keep the other guys from scoring baskets." On this night, the Demon Deacons passed that test -- despite going just 22-for-34 from the line and committing 20 turnovers. T.J. Thompson scored 16 points and hit five 3-pointers to lead George Washington.
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