Auburn 68, Wake Forest 62
Ninety seconds into today's second-round game, 10th-seeded Auburn did not look like it belonged on the court with second-seeded Wake Forest.
Auburn, trailing 7-0, was drawing grins from college basketball experts who said the Tigers didn't deserve a berth in the tournament. But 381/2 minutes later, Auburn was on its way to the East Region semifinal after a 68-62 win against the Demon Deacons.
"We settled down and stopped their transition play, and were up to their challenge inside," Auburn guard Derrick Bird said. "Marquis [Daniels] came in and put us on his back again like he did Friday."
Despite playing just 26 minutes because of foul trouble, Daniels led Auburn with 18 points, including seven in the final two minutes.
Wake Forest led 38-34 at halftime, with 15 points from freshman Justin Gray, who finished with a game-high 26. But the Demon Deacons' dominant inside players struggled in the first half -- and all night as well.
Center Eric Williams, who scored 20 points in Wake Forest's first-round win against East Tennessee State, was in foul trouble early and had four points in 10 minutes. Forwards Jamaal Levy and Vytas Danelius combined for just five first-half points.
"Gray kept us in it from the outside, but that wasn't a good sign for us," Wake Forest Coach Skip Prosser said.
Auburn was not supposed to be able to match up with Wake Forest's big men, but Tigers forward Marco Killingsworth gave them problems on both ends of the court.
"Killingsworth was very physical," Danelius said. "They didn't just contest our shots, they made it hard for us to get open."
In the second half, Auburn rallied to 48-46 with 9 minutes 56 seconds left. But 30 seconds later, Daniels picked up his fourth foul, and their spirited comeback looked to be in trouble.
Daniels went to the bench, and the Tigers' supporting cast stepped up.
Point guard Lewis Monroe, Brandon Robinson and Killingsworth led the Tigers to a 57-54 lead with 3:15 remaining, before Daniels came back to help Auburn close out the game.
"Marquis was a marked man, and when he was off, it changed the game," Auburn Coach Cliff Ellis said. "I think his absence affected [Wake Forest], the court opened up for us offensively, and the young guys stepped up."
Howard, the ACC player of the year, finished with 14 points and eight rebounds. The senior said he let his team down when it needed him most.
He was 2 for 6 from the field in the second half. Wake Forest shot 37 percent for the game and just 27 percent after halftime.
"It hurts, man. I had chances to help my team," Howard said. "Auburn is a great team. They came out and played a great defensive game. When a team is scoring off your turnovers, that's when you lose."