Auburn proved its point.
Feeding off its underdog status one more time, the 10th-seeded 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 6-6 forward Josh Howard, the ACC player of the year. Howard scored 14 points (six below his season average), took only 10 shots (making four) and had seven turnovers.
"Derrick Bird is an All-American defensive player. We don't care who's out there, he's going to guard him," Ellis said. "Whoever we play next is going to see it too."
Auburn (22-11) will face third-seeded Syracuse, a 68-56 winner over Oklahoma State Sunday.
Marquis Daniels led Auburn with 18 points, seven in the final four minutes after he returned from a spell on the bench because of foul trouble.
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.
"It shows this team really is a team," Ellis said. "We made our run with Marquis over there with us."
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.
"We just had a hard time scoring. Give credit to Auburn," said Wake Forest Coach Skip Prosser, whose team shot 27% in the second half.