TAMPA, Fla. (March 21, 2003) (AP) -- Tiny Tim Smith (Newport News, Va.) and East Tennessee State nearly won one for the little guys. Josh Howard and his athletic Wake Forest teammates made sure bigger was barely better.
Howard, the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, made two key free throws and finished with 12 points Friday to help the second-seeded Demon Deacons survive a major scare from No. 15 seed ETSU in a 76-73 victory.
Wake Forest (25-5) will play Auburn, a 65-63 overtime winner over Saint Joseph's, in the second round of the East Regional on Sunday.
The Buccaneers (20-11) -- only the second-best Bucs here in Tampa -- will go home with a loss in their first tournament appearance in 11 years, but the consolation that they, not Wake Forest, were the real show.
With his 22-point performance and frenetic floor game, Smith got most of the credit for ETSU's scintillating effort. During an unbelievable 65-second stretch late in the game, he almost took the Bucs to the second round on his own.
The 5-foot-9 freshman made a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws to cut a 72-64 deficit to three with 47 seconds left. On the ensuing inbounds pass, he practically dove in front of a Wake Forest player for the steal, then after his teammates rebounded two misses, he hit a 3-pointer from the left side to tie the game.
After Howard made two free throws with 21 seconds to go, ETSU junior Zakee Wadood (Lonoke, Ark.) (20 points, 14 rebounds) had a chance to tie it. But Wake Forest called timeout to ice him, and Wadood missed the second of two free throws.
Justin Gray made one of two free throws for a 75-73 lead with 10.9 seconds left, then Smith drove to the left corner and launched a 3-pointer that could have won it.
It found nothing but air, however, and alas, a great game ended and the Bucs failed to become just the fifth No. 15 seed to pull a first-round upset since the field was expanded in 1985.
Wake Forest center Eric Williams led the Demon Deacons with 20 points -- 17 in the first half. He fouled out with 3:18 remaining and left the game to Howard, Gray, Jamaal Levy and Taron Downey, all of whom were clutch down the stretch.
Downey, who scored 17 points, hit a pair of 3-pointers to put the Demon Deacons ahead 72-64 after Smith triggered a 7-0 run that tied it at 64 with 4:11 left.
Levy (14 points) had a sweet put-back dunk for a 46-39 lead early in the second half, but as good as it was it told more about ETSU than Wake.
Because while Levy was screaming after the dunk, Smith was sprinting downcourt for an easy layup that cut the deficit back to five.
In all, Smith was an annoying, persistent pest -- as fun to watch as he was difficult to defend. Ceaselessly pounding that dribble, driving the lane and generally driving the Deacons crazy, he played all 40 minutes. He shot only 9-for-23 and had three assists with five turnovers, but while his stat line might not have looked impressive, his style of play sure did.
He kept the Demon Deacons guessing and helped his coach, Ed DeChellis, win the Xs and Os battle against his good friend, Skip Prosser of Wake Forest.
In the end, however, ETSU of the Southern Conference couldn't get past the ACC's regular-season champions. In fact, the Bucs tied the game three times -- including after Smith's late flurry -- but not once did they take the lead.