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It has been hard to beat North Carolina's execution down the stretch the last two months.

Joseph Forte scored 24 points as the top-ranked Tar Heels shot 54 percent en route to an 80-74 victory over No. 19 Wake Forest on Tuesday night.

"I think we understand how to win," said Forte, who also had six rebounds and five steals. "The last three minutes we could be playing equal to the other team, but if the game is close our guys are going to pull it out."

Wake Forest coach Dave Odom believed his team played well enough and hard enough to knock off the Tar Heels. But then Forte and his veteran teammates played nearly flawless ball over the final four minutes.

"I was impressed with North Carolina's ability to get the ball where they wanted it on offense when they wanted it," Odom said.

The win extended North Carolina's NCAA record of consecutive 20-win seasons to 31 as the Tar Heels (20-2 overall, 10-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) also notched their 17th straight victory despite 20 turnovers.

Craig Dawson scored a career-high 29 points for Wake Forest (15-7, 4-6).

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Cory Bradford had six of Illinois' 10 three-pointers and scored 22 points to lead the seventh-ranked Illini (18-5, 8-2) to a 77-66 victory over No. 4 Michigan State (18-3, 7-3). Illinois took over first place in the Big Ten Conference.

Illinois also got 14 points from Frank Williams and 12 from Brian Cook. Jason Richardson led Michigan State with 19 points.

Tayshaun Prince hit a running hook shot in the lane with 3.3 seconds left and Kentucky hung on for its fourth straight win, 71-70, over No. 8 Florida (15-5, 5-4).

The Wildcats (14-7, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) strengthened their hold on first place in the league's Eastern Division. Prince had 19 points, while Gerald Fitch added 12 and Jason Parker had 10 for the Wildcats, who have won 11 of their last 13 games since an uncharacteristic 3-5 start. Brett Nelson scored 18 points to lead Florida.

Tony Akins scored 28 points, including a critical three-pointer with just over a minute remaining, and Georgia Tech (13-8, 5-5) took a 72-62 win over No. 13 Maryland (15-7, 6-4) in the ACC. Juan Dixon had 18 points for Maryland.

Gary Buchanan broke the NCAA Division I record for consecutive free throws as Villanova (13-8) took an 80-51 win over Penn (7-12). Buchanan, a sophomore guard, hit two foul shots with 4:46 remaining, giving him 65 in a row to break the mark of 64 set by Joe Dykstra of Western Illinois in the 1981-82 season. On the season, Buchanan has converted 73 of 74 from the foul line.

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