"Win or lose, you've got to have amnesia," former coach and ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said. "One close loss, one blowout loss, one great win doesn't define your season. My motto was, 'All we wanna do is start a one-game winning streak.'"
Former coach and ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg -- who recalled a bad loss to Boston College immediately after his Virginia Tech team defeated No. 1 Duke in 2011 -- agreed. "Especially in league play, you've got to learn from it, obviously, but you have to have a short-term memory because you've got another game in two, three days. Can't harbor on the past."
NC State would certainly like to move on. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Wolfpack hadn't scored fewer than 15 points in a half in the past decade (they didn't reach that mark in either half of this loss). They shot 17.3 percent from the field, the worst mark in school history.
But bad losses happen to everyone in basketball, as all our coaches say.
This week, in keeping with the spirit of the annual NBA and College Basketball Crossover on ESPN, NBA analyst P.J. Carlesimo joins Greenberg, Fraschilla and ESPN college hoops analyst Dan Dakich. Carlesimo coached at Wagner for six seasons before taking over at Seton Hall in 1982. He stayed there until he left for the NBA in 1994. He took the Pirates to the 1988-89 title game, in which they lost to Michigan 80-79 in overtime.
What's your biggest single-game nightmare?
Dan Dakich: In 1999, Bowling Green had started 6-1, and we were in the top 30 in the country. We'd beaten Hawaii at Hawaii and won a tournament. Then we went to West Virginia and played a bad WVU team. They didn't have a home court, and they had to play in a civic center in Charleston, and they beat us by 46 freaking points [final score: 100-54]. After the game, I told my players to hurry up and dress and get in the bus before West Virginia came down here to beat the hell out of them again. I used it for fire all season long. We won our last six and won the MAC East outright for the first time since 1983. Two years later, West Virginia hires me as head coach. [Dakich returned to coach Bowling Green eight days after accepting the Mountaineers job.] And during the introductory press conference, the athletic director says, "Well, we've had our eye on Dan since we played them a few years ago." And I said, "Really? You know you beat me by 46 points, and you had your eye on me? What's wrong with you people?"
Seth Greenberg: My first year at Virginia Tech, we're in the Big East. We travel to Rutgers. Obviously, I'm a New Yorker, so I've got probably 100 people there: family, friends, college roommates, aunts, uncles, high school friends. We come out, score the first bucket, run a counter play, go up 4-nothing, my group's going crazy, and in the back of my mind, I'm thinking, "You know what? This is pretty good!" Then Rutgers scores the next 34 points. We get obliterated 85-52. I was so ticked off and mad after the game that we played so poorly that I waited in the locker room and told someone to send my mom home. I waited until everyone was gone, but my college roommate was hiding around the corner. So when I came out, he turns to me and goes, "Hey, Greeny, you're really good at this coaching thing."
Fran Fraschilla: In my first year attempting to rebuild St. John's basketball program, our December schedule included games against Michigan, Villanova and a very good Minnesota team that eventually went to the Final Four that year. We played competitively in the first two games, but in our third game, out at Williams Arena, we were beaten 77-39 by Clem Haskins' club. He left his starters in the entire game. It's not something I would have done, but I certainly wasn't mad at him for that; every coach coaches their own team. While I wanted to crawl underneath the stands, all I could think of was, "We have to get better players." They clearly had outclassed us that day. Luckily, that kind of loss fueled some competitive fire. We continued to get better in Year 1 and made it back to the NCAA tournament the next year. I don't care if you're Coach K or a young coach starting out in Division I: Everybody has had these experiences, often numerous times. It's part of competition.
Although coach Carlesimo didn't zone in on a single game, he talked about the challenges of turning around a program -- his modus operandi at the collegiate and professional levels -- and how tough it is for coaches to do so nowadays, in an era when quick wins and quick exits seem more common.
P.J. Carlesimo: I remember some bad losses in the NBA: the Denver Nuggets beating us [Seattle SuperSonics] by about 100 points [Denver won by 52] and the Utah Jazz beating us [Portland Trail Blazers] bad in the postseason. But college? I can't think of a specific game because there were so, so many. My first year at Wagner, my first Division I job, we won three games. [Their biggest loss that season was by 34 points to Villanova.] My first year at the Hall, we won six games, then nine the following season. We got drilled a bunch during my first four or five years there. The Big East was so good. The thing that was different about the Big East, though, which started with Dave Gavitt at Providence, was that coaches would go out of their way to not embarrass you -- and we were on the other end of that a lot. I vividly remember nights when teams would make a couple of extra passes, would stop pressing, stop fast-breaking. I coached for a lot of rebuilding programs, and some coaches -- probably smarter than me -- won't take those jobs, and there's nothing wrong with that.
The reason I took Wagner -- aside from it being a Division I job when I was 27 -- is it was a job a lot of people didn't want. Lots of losing seasons in a row in Division III, then the athletic director moved up to Division I. He wanted a young coach out of Division I -- I'd been at Fordham -- who wouldn't mind taking a lot of losses. Some coaches don't want those losses, which is totally fine. Others smarter than me could turn the programs around much quicker. I knew things would take a long time. Same with Seton Hall. It was in the Big East, but the bottom of the Big East, so a lot of people thought it was a bad job. Not a good facility on campus, either, especially compared to other teams in the conference. It's not easy when the losses accumulate or there are big losses. It's almost easier when you lose a close one, so you just change one or two things moving forward. The time and patience help.
Many of my most vivid memories of that 1988-89 Seton Hall team is that the school stayed with us. Virtually every other school would have fired me and my coaching staff. They allowed us to turn it around, even after a long time. That's why that run and success was so enjoyable. I remember thinking this team was good enough to make the Final Four, but it would have been with a different coaching staff. But the school stayed with us and gave us that opportunity to get our record back. Unfortunately, that's less and less the case. It's one of the really negative things that's more commonplace in college sports across the board lately. Totally unrealistic and unfair to coaches.