© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2003
TAMPA -- It might seem a bit unfair to criticize Wake Forest.
All it has done is won 13 of its past 16. Its three losses were at Marquette, at Maryland and last weekend against N.C. State in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals.
Still, the No. 2-seeded Demon Deacons appear vulnerable to an upset against No. 10 Auburn. They nearly squandered a double-digit lead Friday, needing star senior forward Josh Howard to alter a last-second 3-pointer to eke out a 76-73 win against No. 15 East Tennessee State.
"We can't play like that and win," Howard said.
Howard, the ACC player of the year, seemingly was pressing offensively for the second consecutive game. He was 4-of-11 (0-for-4 from 3-point range); that after a 6-for-21 performance against N.C. State.
"I couldn't tell you what's going on with my game," Howard said. "Players go through slumps, and I'm probably going through one. I just have to keep shooting, playing hard and helping my team in other ways besides scoring."
Maybe guys like foul-prone center Eric Williams (a career-high 20 points Friday), forward Jamaal Levy and guard Taron Downey can bail him out again, but Howard better be at his best defensively.
Howard, 6 feet 6 and 203 pounds, figures to draw the assignment of his mirror image, 6-6, 200-pound Auburn senior forward Marquis Daniels. Daniels is versatile enough to score inside and outside. See his clutch 3-pointer against Saint Joseph's on Friday.
He is not in a shooting slump, hitting 10 of 19 for 25 points in a 65-63 overtime win.
"Marquis Daniels has turned out to be a marquee player," coach Cliff Ellis said.
But perhaps what makes the Tigers the most dangerous, assuming they don't show any ill effects from going overtime Friday (Daniels played 42 minutes and Lewis Monroe went 41), is their quest for respect. Pundits have knocked them all season, arguing that a soft nonconference schedule padded their record.
"We know it's out there. It's a motivation factor, to a point," senior guard Derrick Bird said, adding that another win would "show something else."
Something sweet ... the Sweet 16, which Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser has not reached in his previous six NCAA Tournament appearances (one with Loyola, Md., four with Xavier and last year with Wake Forest).