RALEIGH, N.C. - Chris Paul was in complete control in his first NCAA Tournament game.
The Wake Forest freshman had 22 points and made several key plays to lead the fourth-seeded Demon Deacons past Virginia Commonwealth 79-78 Thursday.
Justin Gray scored 15 to help the Demon Deacons advance to the second round for the third straight year. Jamaal Levy overcame a sprained left knee to add 10 points and 10 rebounds, including the go-ahead basket.
Paul assisted on Levy's basket with a minute left and hit four free throws in the final seconds.
Paul, the ACC's rookie of the year, went 12-for-15 from the line and had seven assists against two turnovers.
"Coach (Skip) Prosser and my teammates have the ultimate confidence in me," Paul said. "A lot of times I say they have more confidence in me than I have in myself."
Domonic Jones had 22 points and seven assists for the Rams, making their first NCAA appearance in eight years.
Virginia Commonwealth trailed by 11 in the first 61/2 minutes. But the Rams rallied behind Jones and led by six midway through the second half.
It was tied going into the final 90 seconds, thanks to VCU's second-half 3-point shooting and Wake Forest's inability to hit free throws. Wake Forest shot 17-for-27 at the line, including 13-for-21 after halftime.
The Rams hit 8 of 13 3-pointers in the second half and shot 51 percent for the game.
In the end, though, Paul made the difference.
"He made all the plays, whether it was getting to the free-throw line, scoring, pulling up for a jump shot or making a correct pass," VCU coach Jeff Capel said. "That's what makes him such a good player. He just has an incredible feel for the game."
The Deacons went ahead to stay when Paul passed inside to Levy, who sidestepped Nick George and dunked for a 75-73 lead with a minute left.
The Rams had a chance to tie it, but Jones missed a runner. George got the offensive rebound to keep the possession alive, but Gray rebounded B.A. Walker's miss in the lane with 25 seconds left.
Paul then hit four free throws in the final 11.9 seconds left to seal it, showing more composure from the line than the Demon Deacons did for most of the game. Walker hit a running 3-pointer as time expired to put the Rams just short of their first tournament win since 1985.
Paul also assisted on two of three consecutive 3-pointers by the Demon Deacons, erasing a 63-57 deficit midway through the second half.
"I wouldn't trade him for any point guard in the country," Prosser said. "He possesses a warrior's heart."
The game marked a homecoming of sorts for the 29-year-old Capel, who played at nearby Duke from 1994-97. During his career, Capel went 1-8 against the Tim Duncan-led Deacons.
"We came in, we weren't afraid and we fought for 40 minutes," Capel said. "We don't take any moral victory from this. We came down here to win."
DUKE 96, ALABAMA ST. 61: The Blue Devils were dinged up and maybe a little vulnerable. The Hornets were hardly the team to take advantage of it.
Shavlik Randolph scored 20 for Duke as Alabama State, 230th in the RPI rankings, never had a chance.
Malcolm Campbell scored 26 for the Hornets.
Duke guard Chris Duhon started despite bruised ribs. But he barely played in the second half and didn't score.
J.J. Redick, Duke's leading scorer and best shooter, missed his first five shots and was scoreless in the first half. But he made three quick shots during a brief flurry early in the second half, and finished 5-for-13 for 14 points, suggesting his late-season slump is ending.
Daniel Ewing, who hurt his nonshooting hand during the ACC tournament, made three 3-pointers and scored 18 of his 19 in the first half.
SETON HALL 80, ARIZONA 76: Kelly Whitney had 24 points and 14 rebounds for the eighth-seeded Pirates, who overcame a 14-point deficit in the second half. Andre Barrett added 19 points and six assists. The ninth-seeded Wildcats were in the tournament for a national-best 20th straight year.
Andre Iguodala scored 19 points to lead the Wildcats, who lost in the opening round for the first time since 1999.
The Wildcats led 53-39 on a jumper by Mustafa Shakur with 14:58 left. But the Pirates got open jumpers off penetration from Barrett and went on a 23-5 run.