Daniels gave a magnificent effort with 27 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals along with all-out hustle as he tried to lead the Tigers to the NCAA East Regional final. The six-foot-six forward and his teammates came up just one-point short, losing 79-78 to Syracuse at the Pepsi Arena in Syracuse-friendly Albany.
"It is going to be tough knowing that this is my last game to play at Auburn taking off the jersey," Daniels says. "Auburn has been good to me. It is a place that I will never forget."
Auburn ends its season with 22 victories. Syracuse won for the 27th time and advances to a Sunday game vs. No. 1 seed Oklahoma with the winner moving on to the Final Four in New Orleans.
"I played hard," Daniels says. "My teammates played hard. This is a tough loss to swallow."
As a measure of respect for Daniels and fellow senior starter Derrick Bird, to a man in the Auburn locker room after the game their teammates saluted their leadership and noted that they were sorry that the two couldn't keep on pushing towards the team's dream of playing in the Final Four.
Derrick Bird attacks the Syracuse 2-3 zone.
"I am hurting for those guys," says sophomore point guard Lewis Monroe. "They are great teammates."
Coach Cliff Ellis has high praise for both seniors and predicts that Daniels will make a successful move to the NBA after earning his degree this semester from Auburn. "He's been versatile," the Auburn coach says. "We will be seeing him at the next level. What he has done on the court is not well known except by the people in our area and our conference. That is a special young man. That is a special young man."
Daniels figured prominently in 10th-seeded Auburn's near miss vs. the No. 3 seeded Syracuse team. "We made a little adjustment at halftime to go small, which was a gamble to get Marquis at the high post," Ellis says. "We were struggling at the high post area and it paid off. It wasn't quite enough. Our offense made a surge and when we put him at a position he was at two years ago. Again, we saw the versatility of the young man."
Auburn scored 51 points in the second half after scoring 27 in the first half and committed just three turnovers after struggling against the 2-3 zone in the first half that forced 14 Auburn turnovers.
"We made an offensive move knowing that defensively the way we played might suffer because we were smaller," Ellis says. "Syracuse did score more points in the second half (42 vs. 37 in the first), but we had to have more offense. That was the only way we had a shot. We needed to go small to get into the offense and have a shot. Our defense was still good. It turned out to be a great move. It was just a little short."
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has high praise for Daniels and notes that his team was fortunate to survive and advance to the Elite Eight round. "Give Auburn a tremendous amount of credit for the way they came back in the second half," Boeheim says. "Daniels is really a terrific player."
Ellis says that Daniels will be missed and not soon forgotten, noting that that as a sophomore Daniels filled in at power forward when needed there and as a junior filled in at point guard to help the team. "He has given a lot to this program," Ellis says. "He has given us leadership. He is like a son to me."
Troy Gaines (10) and Derrick Bird (11) wait as the game officials--John Clougherty, John Higgins and Rick Hartzell--check the TV monitor to see if there was any time left after Auburn cut the gap to 79-78. Just three-tenths of a second were added and Syracuse was able to hold on for a victory.
NCAA Notes: Derrick Bird did a solid defensive job on Syracuse star Carmelo Anthony. The 6-8 forward didn't score until the second half and missed 10 of his 17 shots. Auburn used different defenders on Anthony, who got little accomplished against the 6-4 Tiger guard when was sticking with the forward. Anthony, who took a cheap shot with an elbow to Bird in the second half, admitted the Auburn senior's defense had frustrated him. "I just tried to limit his touches," Bird says. "In the second half he hit some tough shots when I was right there on him and he got a couple of putbacks that were big. This is a good Syracuse team and we have to give them credit. It is disappointing. It is hard to swallow a loss like that. The best thing is we fought hard to the end."...Ellis says he is going to be looking for junior Kyle Davis to step into a leadership role next season along with other players who had key roles on the 2002-2003 team. "Leadership will change hands," Ellis says. "Offseason work is going to be important."...Commenting on his team's run into the Sweet 16, Ellis says, "They learned a lot from it because there is nothing like the experience you get from any circumstance or situation. I thought some of our guys were timid a little bit in the first half considering this was their first time here. Overall, I thought we handled it very well and I think the experience will be beneficial."...Commenting on Syracuse, Ellis says, "You have to be impressed with them. Carmelo Anthony made some shots against a very good defender. You have to be impressed with Syracuse. They scored 79 points and we played pretty doggone good defense."