Auburn stuns Wake Forest
Published 7:21 am Monday, March 24, 2003
By By FRED GOODALL AP Sports Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Auburn proved its point.
Feeding off its underdog status one more time, the team many critics believed didn't belong in the NCAA tournament stunned second-seeded Wake Forest 68-62 Sunday in the second round of the East Regional.
Auburn coach Cliff Ellis angrily responded last week, saying his players earned the berth despite losing nine of their last 14 games and playing a weak early season schedule.
He resisted the temptation to gloat after toppling the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season champions to reach the round of 16 for the second time in five seasons.
Instead, Ellis focused on Derrick Bird, the 6-foot-4 senior guard who shut down Wake Forest's Josh Howard, the ACC player of the year.
The 10th-seeded Tigers (22-11) will face third-seeded Syracuse, a 68-56 winner over Oklahoma State, in the regional semifinals.
Marquis Daniels led Auburn with 18 points, seven in the final four minutes after he returned from a spell on the bench in foul trouble. Reserve Lewis Monroe scored Auburn's last four points from the foul line to finish with 12.
The Tigers trailed by two when Daniels was called for his fourth foul with 9:22 to go. They led 59-56 when he returned, taking over the game with a 13-3 run that rattled Wake Forest and set it up for Daniels to close out the Demon Deacons.
Freshman Justin Gray led Wake Forest (25-6) with a career-high 26 points, despite sitting out three minutes of the second half after falling and hitting the back of his head on the floor.
Howard, however, was not much of a factor -- especially at crunch time, when the Demon Deacons, who shot 27 percent in the second half (7-for-26), needed him most.
Howard also struggled in a loss to North Carolina State in the ACC tourney and had another off day in the Demon Deacons' narrow first-round victory over 15th-seeded East Tennessee State. Despite scoring 14 points Sunday, the 6-foot-6 senior was 4-for-10 shooting and had a team-high seven turnovers.
Marco Killingsworth and Brandon Robinson each had 11 points for Auburn, which also made the round of 16 under Ellis in 1999. Both players had key baskets during the stretch when Daniels was on the bench.
Although Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser insisted too much was being made of the way his team played in its previous two games, the Demon Deacons clearly were not the same team that won its first outright ACC regular-season crown in 41 years.
Gray made his first three shots and was 5-for-8 in the first half, picking up the slack for the slumping Howard. But no one else asserted themselves, leaving the freshman guard to carry the load.
Monroe's 3-pointer gave Auburn its first lead, 51-49, with 7:43 remaining. Howard made a pair of free throws to tie it 26 seconds later, but Wake Forest never regained the lead -- surprising for a team that has a knack for closing out opponents under Prosser.