TAMPA, FLORIDA (TICKER) —Marquis Daniels one-upped another one-man show by Jameer Nelson in the NCAA Tournament.
Daniels scored five straight points in overtime to rally No. 10 Auburn to a 65-63 victory over seventh-seeded Saint Joseph’s in the first round of the East Region.
Nelson poured in 32 points in a performance reminiscent of his heroics two years ago in the NCAA Tournament, when he had a huge game against Stanford. His two free throws with less than a second left in regulation on Friday forged a 57-57 tie and forced overtime.
“All year long, people looked out of the corner of their eye whenever I’d say he’s the best point guard in America,” Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. “This kid is as good as any of them, if not better than all of them.”
Nelson had a pair of 3-pointers around a basket by Auburn’s Marco Killingsworth as the Hawks (23-7) took a 63-59 lead. But he missed a 3-pointer and it led to a fast break that was capped by a dunk by Daniels.
Daniels, a Florida native, added a three-point play for a 64-63 edge with 45 seconds left. Daniels led Auburn (21-11) with 25 points.
“(Nelson) is one of the toughest players I’ve played against,” Daniels said. “He’s just so quick and his jump shot is deadly. My team helped me out a lot and he did a great job tonight and the credit goes to him.”
Saint Joseph’s committed a crucial turnover when Tyrone Barley was whistled for an offensive foul for pushing off Lewis Monroe. But Auburn left the door open after Derrick Bird made 1-of-2 at the line for a two-point lead with eight seconds left.
Nelson pushed the ball upcourt and the Hawks eventually found a wide-open Pat Carroll near the top of the key. But Carroll airballed on his 3-pointer that would have won the game.
Carroll was scoreless and missed all five shots from beyond the arc.
The Tigers, who commentator Dick Vitale felt should not have been in the field, advanced to the second round to face Wake Forest.
“I first met Dick back in Sarasota,” Auburn coach Cliff Ellis said. “His hair was blowing away in the breeze and he was too proud to chase after it.”
Nelson made 11-of-22 shots and also added nine rebounds for the Hawks, who were hampered by the struggles of second leading scorer Delonte West. West played with a stress fracture in the lower leg and made just 3-of-13 shots for 10 points.
“I definitely wasn’t 100 percent,” West said. “I can’t blame my performance on my ankle, though.”
Auburn led by as many as 15 points and took a 37-24 advantage on a three-point play By Killingsworth with 17:10 remaining in regulation. Nelson led a 13-0 charge with seven points and his jumper made it 37-37 with just under 13 minutes to go.
The Tigers never gave up the lead and Bird stepped back and knocked down a 3-pointer with just over three minutes to play for a 52-49 lead. A pair of free throws by Bird made it 54-51 with 2:19 left.
“I thought that it was the defense and the attack on the boards that picked them up,” Ellis said. “For our guys to see us lose control of the game and play through the chaos as excellent as they did showed character.”
Nelson responded with a pair from the line and gave Saint Joseph’s its first lead at 55-54 since the game’s early moments with a runner with 18 seconds to go. Daniels answered with a 3-pointer over Tyrone Barley with six seconds remaining.
“The shot wasn’t my intent, the play was set up to drive to the basket, but I pulled up and the shot fell for me.”
But Nelson took the inbounds and went the length of the court before he was fouled with five-tenths of a second left. Nelson calmly stepped up to the line and made his free throws.
“My teammates did a good job of finding me,” Nelson said. “I just had to penetrate. I thought if I was going to lose, I was going to go to the basket and lose.”
Killingsworth scored 15 points and Bird added 11 for Auburn, which shot 44 percent (25-of-57). Kyle Davis added nine points and seven rebounds.