Wake Forest head coach Dave Odom called his basketball team together at the half here Saturday night and warned the Deacons that Clemson was likely to start the final 20 minutes in a full-court press.
Odom had read Cliff Ellis, his Clemson counterpart, like a book.And still neither the first-year coach nor the Deacons could do anything about the Clemson strategy. The pressing Tigers turned the Wake game plan into confetti and ran away with a 76-57 laugher.
``Honestly, at halftime we said Clemson is a team that makes very good adjustments,' Odom said when it was over. ``Now, (Anthony) Tucker had scored 16 points in the first half and I expected a box or a diamond on him. And we said they probably would press us.'
Up by just four points at the half, 34-30, Clemson did press. The Tigers stole the ball the first two times Wake attempted to put it in play and on both occasions turned the thefts into baskets.
Wake had played what Odom would call one of its best halves of the season until intermission. The two thefts not only cost the Deacons the ball, they also robbed Wake of its composure and its momentum.
And Clemson did do something about Tucker, the talented transfer from John Thompson's program at Georgetown. He had scored 16 points by half but got just one shot in the second half, and made it count. He also had 20 minutes of Derrick Forrest in his face to remember.
``He had a tremendous first half,' Ellis said. ``We felt like we had to shut him down in the second half because he was carrying their team.
``We just tried to keep the ball out of his hands.'
In going to the full-court press that he kept up until Wake was fading in the distance, Ellis said he had taken a gamble.
``It was just something to try to fire us up a little bit,' he said. ``I just said, 'Hey, we need to make something happen. It's either going to happen right now or it's going to backfire,' and I had no idea which would be the case.
``But I should point out that we had a four-point lead and if they come back and - boom! boom! - hit me with it (the full-court press), it's still an even ball game.'
Not to worry.
Before Odom could get a time out called, Clemson had expanded a four-point halftime advantage to nine, 41-32.
``We called time out and tried to regroup,' Odom lamented. ``We were just not able to do it.'
The second half frustration of the Deacons was demonstrated in Tucker's own futility. Though he scored just two points, he still led the Deacons with 18 on the night. Chris King was the only other Deacon in double figures with just 11, just four in that nightmarish second half.
Meanwhile, Clemson's prolific scorer, Dale Davis, was hitting seven of nine field goal attempts to lead four Tiger scorers in double figures with 20.
But somehow, the 10 points scored by Forrest off his work against Tucker seemed much larger. Eight of Forrest's points came in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the second half and two of his four steals came before the crowd had settled in as he became the principal Deacon tormentor off the full-court press.
Elden Campbell had 13 and guard Marion Cash contributed 10, including a couple of rafter-shaking fast break slams that came in the second half when the issue was all but settled. They were offered purely as amusement for the crowd that numbered an estimated 11,000.
This was a game Clemson did not steal from Wake, though it seemed that way. The Tigers swiped the ball 16 times, the most thefts the team has had in a single game in 10 years and a day, since Jan. 12, 1980, when they had 18 - against Wake Forest.
It was that early second half streak that decided this game, when Forrest played the key role in dismantling the Deacons. And before the second half had aged 10 minutes, the Tiger lead had grown to 17 points.
``From a strategy point of view,' Odom said, ``there was probably nothing we could have done. We could have executed better, though.'
From a strategy point of view, Odom had left starter Sam Ivy on the bench to begin the second half and sent Tom Wise in to take his place and to work against the talented Campbell.
``Against Virginia at the start of the second half, they had - boom! - gone right inside to Campbell, and I knew there would be a few fouls involved and we wanted to protect Sam a little bit.
``In retrospect, maybe that wasn't very wise,' he added without attempting a pun.
But in retrospect, Ivy's presence through the early minutes of the second half in Littlejohn Coliseum Saturday night probably would not have made the difference.
It was the sixth straight loss for the Deacons (7-6 and 0-3) in Littlejohn. Clemson is 11-3, 3-1 in the ACC.