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March. 2, 2004

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AP Sports Writer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Devin Smith’s teammates call him “Superman” because he has rarely let his aching back keep him out of the lineup for Virginia, especially when the game is on the line.

If not before, Smith earned the moniker Tuesday night, converting a three-point play against two defenders with 5.8 seconds remaining to lift surging Virginia to an 84-82 victory against No. 11 Wake Forest.

Smith said a half-second may have been the difference on the play since by the time the defender knew Smith had the ball in the left corner, the 3-point specialist was on the baseline moving toward the basket.

“One of the guys was trying to take a charge,” Smith said of the Demon Deacons’ Erik Williams and Justin Gray, who tied the shot up for a second before Smith prevailed. “I was fortunate to get the shot off.”

The Cavaliers (16-10, 6-9 Atlantic Coast Conference) won for the fourth time in five games and beat their third ranked team in that stretch, possibly avoiding a spot in the ACC tournament play-in game.

They started the night tied with Maryland for eighth in the league, and finish against the Terps on Saturday night in College Park, Md. Maryland also plays at No. 16 North Carolina State on Wednesday night.

“We’re just coming together as a team and our confidence is growing with each win.” Smith said of the Cavaliers, whose last three victories – at Clemson, and at home against No. 19 Georgia Tech and No. 14 North Carolina – all came on late 3-pointers by senior guard Todd Billet.

This time, with the Demon Deacons determined not to let Billet do it again, Smith took a pass in the left corner and lifted Virginia himself.

“That dude, we call him ‘Superman,”‘ said freshman point guard T.J. Bannister, a star himself with 12 assists and one turnover. “That’s crazy with a herniated disk in his back. He doesn’t even practice, but he gets in the game, scores when he has to and hit big shots for us.”

Smith and Derrick Byars led Virginia with 15 points each, Billet had 13 and Elton Brown 12. Virginia shot nearly 61 percent after halftime.

Wake Forest (19-7, 9-6), which arrived as the league’s hottest team with six straight victories, had a chance to tie or win it when Brown was called for traveling after rebounding a missed free throw with 1.5 seconds left, but Jamaal Levy’s off-balance shot from the right side missed.

Coach Skip Prosser said his team did itself in.

“We have to learn to guard if we’re going to continue to play,” he said. “We were horrific. … It doesn’t help that they shot better from the field than we did from the free-throw line.”

Wake Forest was 12-for-24 from the line, 7-for-16 in the second half.

The victory, like one last week against North Carolina, ended with hundreds of fans streaming onto the court in celebration of the dramatic turnaround for the Cavaliers amid talk Pete Gillen’s job was in danger.

Before beating the Demon Deacons, the Cavaliers edged Clemson 58-55, the Yellow Jackets 82-80 and the Tar Heels 74-72 on Billet’s shots.

Before his winning drive, Smith scored on a dunk with 3:53 left after the Deacons got within a point, then muscled the ball up and in after Justin Gray’s 13-footer in the lane had tied it at 81 with 1:38 to play.

Chris Paul led the Demon Deacons with 21 points and Gray had 20. The Deacons hit 12 of 26 3-point shots and outrebounded Virginia 41-33.

After Eric Williams blocked Brown’s shot at the other end, Williams was tied up underneath and missed, Smith grabbing the crucial rebound.

“Thank God it didn’t go to overtime,” Gillen said. “I couldn’t have taken another five minutes of that.”

The Cavaliers trailed 55-50 early in the second half before Brown’s basket sparked an 11-2 run that gave them their first lead of the night.

The Demon Deacons kept it close and tied it at 71-all on Taron Downey’s 3-pointer with 7:49 remaining. Downey was fouled and had a chance to give Wake the lead, but missed his shot at a four-point play.

The Deacons pulled even at 77-all on Williams’ hook with 5:17 left, but J.R. Reynolds hit a free throw and Smith dunked for Virginia, restoring its lead to 80-77.

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