Mike O'Koren scored 18 points, 14 of them in the second half, and teammate Phil Ford held off a late Wake Forest rally with key free throws to give second-ranked North Carolina a 71-69 Atlantic Coast Conference victory today.

The Tar Heels, who suffered their first conference setback Saturday in a 92-84 loss to Duke, controlled the contest most of the way but saw a 14-point lead midway through the second half cut to one point by Wake Forest's Rod Griffin and Frank Johnson. The Tar Heels went to their celebrated four-corner delay offense with 5:57 left to play and holding a 66-61 lead.

The Deacons, helped by two steals, cut the lead to 66-65 with 4:05 to play.

Ford connected on both ends of a pair of one-and-one free-throw situations and sophomore center Jeff Wolf hit the first shot of two free throws and missed the second in the last seconds for the final five Tar Heel points.

UNC preserved the victory when freshman Al Wood blocked a shot by Wake's Leroy McDonald as time ran out and O'Koren grabbed the rebound.

The Tar Heels led at the half, 39-33, but had enjoyed a 10-point margin in the first half when Ford hit the second of two free throws to put UNC ahead, 39-29.

Sophomore Richard Yonakor, the Tar Heels' starting center who came down with mononucleosis, dressed for the game but saw no action.

WAKE FOREST (69)

Hendler 0 0-0 0, Griffin 10 2-3 22, Harrison 3 0-2 6, Johnson 9 6-6 24, McCaffery 1 0-0 2, McDonald 4 1-2 9, Ellis 0 0-0 0, Dale 1 0-0 2, Singleton 2 0-0 4, Thurman 0 0-0 0. Totals 30 9-13 69.

NORTH CAROLINA (71)

Bradley 2 0-0 4, O'Koren 8 2-5 18, Wolf 1 2-6 4, Zaliagiris 4 0-3 8, Ford 5 6-8 16, Wood 5 0-0 10, Crampton 0 1-2 1, Virgil 3 0-0 6, Colescott 1 0-0 2, Doughton 0 0-0 0, Budka 1 0-0 2. Totals 30 11-24 71.

Halftime -- North Carolina 39, Wake Forest 33. Total fouls -- Wake Forest 19, North Carolina 16. A -- 10,000.