CLEMSON - Jim Davis worried that Charlotte's four-guard lineup would cause match problems for his team.
Turns out the Clemson head coach was correct.
The 49ers used an uptempo offense and a swarming, trapping defense to ease past the Lady Tigers Wednesday night, 78-71, in the opening round of the Women's National Invitational Tournament at Littlejohn Coliseum. The win advances Charlotte (17-13) to meet the winner of tonight's Western Michigan-Louiville game.
Clemson's season comes to an end at 17-12.
"I'm obviously disappointed. I felt like we missed enough easy shots in the first half where the game shouldn't have even been close," Davis said. "But the bottom line is they were tougher than we were tonight. They wanted it more than we did, and I guess that's my fault."
Oddly enough, the difference in the game may have come during the halftime break. Clemson, leading 39-33 despite missing at least 12 layups by Davis' count, still wasn't comfortable playing at Charlotte's sometime frenetic tempo.
Meanwhile, by the time 49ers coach Katie Meier made her way to the locker room at the break, her team had already diagnosed its first-half problems, written the necessary adjustments on the board and were looking forward to the second half.
"That's something we always do," Meier said. "They put up their thoughts, I have mine, and we compare notes. I thought they nailed it."
Among the adjustments Charlotte made was in its halfcourt offense.
Instead of standing around the perimeter, passing the ball from side-to-side and jacking up the first 3-pointer that came open, the 49er guards began to penetrate Clemson's zone defense, draw attention in the paint, then kick the ball out to a wide-open teammate.
The strategy paid huge dividends for Leslie Cook. Just 1-of-6 from the floor in the first half, Cook hit 4 of her 6 shot attempts in the final 20 minutes - all 3-pointers, to help Charlotte overcome the deficit and steadily build a nine point lead, 67-58, with 5:29 to go.
Davis was hesitant to come out of the zone because of Charlotte's ability to have any number of players put the ball on the floor and drive around his defenders. But eventually he was forced to do so.
The change limited Charlotte's offensive production down the stretch, giving Clemson a window of opportunity to rally, but the Lady Tigers couldn't muster enough offense to pull off the comeback.
"Again it's toughness. This time it's mental toughness," Davis said. "We had a number of chances down the stretch but didn't take care of the basketball. They gave us a chance to get back in it, but we weren't mentally tough enough to take advantage of the opportunity."
Cook's 18 points for Charlotte was topped only by the 21-point, 11-rebound performance of point guard Sakellie Daniels. Daniels also had two assists, four steals and didn't commit a turnover is 35 minutes of play.
Lakeia Stokes led Clemson with 16 points and 11 rebounds, but committed seven turnovers - three of which came when Clemson was trying to rally in the final 2:44. Julie Talley finished with 14 points and Khaili Sanders added 13.
Stokes' double-double was her seventh of the season...Julie Aderhold passed Chrissy Floyd for fourth place on the all-time school list for made 3-pointers with 125...The Lady Tigers finally outrebounded an opponent, 50-37, but couldn't take advantage of second-chance point opportunities...Clemson committed 20 turnovers, which led to 24 Charlotte points...Charlotte's bench outscored Clemson's 34-29.
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.