Daniels notes that he and fellow seniors Derrick Bird and Donny Calton, a walk-on forward, took the role as team leaders seriously after a disappointing 2001-2002 season. That started with demanding individual workouts with the coaching staff, extra strength and conditioning drills plus a lot of court time with his teammates playing five on five games late into the evening.
"Last season we didn't have most of the guys staying on campus over the summer working out and it showed," he says. "This year we did and we came into the season in better shape physically and that helped us early and it has helped us throughout the season."
Marquis Daniels scored in double figures in every Auburn games this season.
To keep their season from ending, Daniels and the Tigers face the daunting task of cooling a hot Syracuse team that won eight consecutive games before falling 80-67 to Connecticut in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York. Daniels will probably spend part of the game on Friday night guarding Syracuse star Carmelo Anthony, a 6-8, 200-pound freshman, who is a candidate for national player of the year honors after putting together a very impressive season that includes averages of 22.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.
Syracuse is 26-5 and no team in those 31 games has been able to keep Anthony from scoring in double digits. Daniels is skeptical that the Tigers will be able to end the trend. "He is a great player, a great scorer for them," the senior forward says. "A lot of the offense goes through him, but they also have great shooters in McNamara (6-2, 172 guard Jerry McNamara) and other guys, too. We are going to have to come in with a team effort and try to contain guys. You are not going to shut down great players. You just have to try to contain them."
McNamara averages 13.3 points per game and with Anthony they are the highest scoring freshman duo in the country. Anthony is second nationally in scoring among all Division I freshman players and McNamara is 23rd.
Syracuse opened the NCAA Tournament with a 76-65 victory over Manhattan in Boston while Auburn, the seventh seed in the East Regional, defeated 10th-seeded St. Joseph's in Tampa. Syracuse survived a second round scare vs. Oklahoma State. The Orangemen rallied from a 25-8 first half deficit to defeat the Cowboys 68-56 while Auburn took out two seed Wake Forest, the ACC regular season champion, by a 68-62 count in what was also a comeback victory.
This is Syracuse's 13th time to advance to the Sweet 16. Only Kentucky and North Carolina with 19 trips, Duke with 16 plus Indiana, Louisville and UCLA with 14 apiece have as many trips that deep into the tournament. For Auburn, this is the fourth appearance in the Sweet 16 as the Tigers and Orangemen meet for the first time ever in basketball.
Daniels played like a senior leader in Auburn's first two NCAA victories in Tampa. He scored 25 points and contributed eight rebounds and four assists in a victory vs. St. Joe's. Despite getting into foul trouble vs. Wake Forest, Daniels led the Tigers in scoring with 18 points while adding four rebounds and three steals. Those games were in neutral court situations. Friday night in Albany, a short drive from Syracuse, most of the 15,500 fans at the Pepsi Center are expected to be Syracuse partisans. Daniels says that will make his team's task even more challenging.
"They pretty much are in their backyard and we are a couple thousand miles away," he says. "It is going to be a very tough game with them being close to home."
NCAA Notes: Syracuse has been very good at rallying from behind this season. The Orangemen overcame second half deficits in 14 of their 26 victories. The Orangemen trailed Pitt by 13 points in the second half and came back from a dozen down vs. Notre Dame, Georgetown and Rutgers, the only common opponent for the Tigers and the Orangemen. Syracuse trailed Rutgers at the Carrier Dome 54-42 before catching the Scarlet Knights at the 5:35 mark on the way to an 83-74 victory. Rutgers won the first meeting this season against Syracuse, taking a 68-65 decision in New Jersey. Auburn defeated Rutgers 82-70 at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum on Dec. 8th before the Tigers were at full strength with Brandon Robinson and Nathan Watson not yet available for action. That was the only game the Tigers played against a Big East team this season...Daniels has 206 career steals, which is the most in Auburn basketball history. Former NBA player Chris Morris (1984-88) held the record prior to Daniels taking the lead this season.