Even if Josh Howard was having the worst game of his career, Wake Forest would go to him with the game on the line.

Howard struggled -- but still scored 17 points -- to lead the top-seeded Demon Deacons to a 69-61 victory over Florida State today in an ACC tournament quarterfinal.

"You know, he doesn't dress in a phone booth," Wake Forest Coach Skip Prosser said. "But in my opinion, he's the player of the year in the country and he's still the unanimous vote on this team on who would take the last shot.

"While his numbers might be gaudy, he has carried this team all year."

Ninth-ranked Wake Forest is the top-seeded team in the tournament after winning its first outright ACC title in 41 years. But it couldn't shake the ninth-seeded Seminoles for almost 30 minutes.

Then Howard, expected to win ACC player of the year honors next week, scored on consecutive baskets in a stretch of five straight Wake Forest conversions to give the Demon Deacons (24-4) control of the game.

He scored on an off-balance pump-fake in double coverage, then nailed a 12-foot jumper to give Wake Forest a 58-52 lead with 5 minutes 51 seconds to play -- the Deacons' first comfortable margin.

Howard finished 7 of 15 from the field -- 0 for 3 from three-point range -- and went 3 for 6 at the free throw line. He credited Florida State (14-15) for attacking the Deacons and disrupting his game.

"We've gained this status now and because of that, every team's going to give us their 'A' game," Howard said. "That's what Florida State did today."

With Howard struggling, Wake Forest's youngsters picked up the slack.

Freshman Justin Gray had 15 points, sophomore Vytas Danelius added 14 and sophomore Jamaal Levy had 12 rebounds for Wake Forest, which will play North Carolina State in Saturday's semifinals.

Tim Pickett scored 17 points for Florida State. Trevor Harvey added 15, Anthony Richardson 14 and Michael Joiner 10, though he didn't score in the second half.

* NORTH CAROLINA STATE 71, GEORGIA TECH 65: Josh Powell had 18 points, and Scooter Sherrill and Marcus Melvin added 15 each as the Wolfpack helped its NCAA hopes by beating the Yellow Jackets.

Herb Sendek improved to 6-1 in opening games as the fourth-seeded Wolfpack (17-11) advanced to the semifinals for the fourth time in the last five seasons.

N.C. State will play No. 1 seed Wake Forest (24-4) Saturday.

North Carolina State forward Julius Hodge enjoys his team's quarterfinal win.