It is rare that an Atlantic Coast Conference basketball game is decided by a single play, unless it comes at the buzzer.

But tonight, one play was the difference between North Carolina and Wake Forest. It came with 7:21 left and propelled the Tar Heels to a 72-68 victory over the Deacons in a rough, sloppy game.

The Deacons, in spite of the 10,000 rabid Tar Heel fans raising a din in Carmichael Auditorium, had played a smart, poised game and the score was tied, 58-58.

Patiently, they worked for a shot. But, double-teaming the ball as they like to do, Dave Colescott and Al Wood collapsed on Wake point guard Benny McKaig and slapped the ball loose.

Wood shot down the court with it, McKaig in pursuit. At the foul line McKaig, trying to prevent the easy layup, tried to tackle Wood.

"I wanted to make him earn the points at the foul line," McKaig said. "I didn't think there was any way he could get the shot off. I still don't know how he did it because I never saw the shot. I just heard the fans going wild."

The fans were going wild because Wood, as he was going down, flipped the ball into the hoop.

"You never expect to make a shot like that," said Wood, who scored 14 of his game-high 16 points in the second half. "It was just one of those luck shots."

McKaig was called -- correctly -- for an intentional foul and Wood made both free throws. That gave the Tar Heels a 62-58 lead and Wake, which had led by four with 10 minutes left, never got even.

"I guess that was what turned it around," Wake Coach Carl Tacy said. "Benny certainly grabbed him but I thought he took about four steps with the ball. It should have been a walk."

The four-point play negated a scrappy effort by an outmanned Wake team. The Deacons are now 0-3 in ACC play and 6-6 overall. Carolina, stunned by Clemson and Virginia last week is 1-2 in conference play, 7-3 in all games.

Wood got help in the scoring column tonight from Mike O'Koren, who had 14 points, and Dave Colescott and Rich Yonakor, who had 12 each. Wake's sophomore forward tandem of Guy Morgan (15 points) and Alvis Rogers (14 points) led the losers.

Although Carolina won the game -- going to the four corners with a six-point lead the last four minutes -- it was less than an artistic triumph. The Tar Heels made 12 of 23 shots from the foul line, had several turnovers in the back court and missed a dunk.

But they weren't complaining.