Jim Larranaga on Saturday afternoon found himself not only sitting in the same seat where Mark Gottfried had angrily challenged his own team on Wednesday night, but in very much the same kind of mood three days later.
On Wednesday, Gottfried was furious with N.C. State's lack of effort and intensity in a home loss to Georgia Tech, a no-show first half and inattentive rebounding performance in particular. On Saturday, Larranaga was exasperated with every aspect of Miami's performance against that same N.C. State team.
These may turn out to be the three most important days of N.C. State's season. Or it may just be a window into the chaotic unpredictability of college basketball, this season and the ACC in particular.
Saturday's 85-69 win over No. 15 Miami was not only a reminder of what the Wolfpack can do when it tip-toes along the right side of its almost nonexistent margin for error but a resounding response to the very public challenge Gottfried issued Wednesday and the two very uncomfortable days of practice that followed.
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“It's a lesson learned for one night,” Gottfried said. “Now we've got to be able to build on that.”
These past few days were not the most pleasant for the Wolfpack players. Gottfried took away their practice jerseys and forced them to practice in white T-shirts. He shut down the snack bar at the practice facility. And he moved BeeJay Anya to the scout team, forcing him to practice directly against Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman.
All of it was designed to drive home the message that playing for N.C. State was a privilege, and while the Wolfpack's record might be somewhat beyond its control, the no-show first-half and inattentive rebounding performance against Georgia Tech were not.
“I feel like he thought we were getting a little spoiled with the stuff we have at N.C. State, so he had to humble us a little bit,” Freeman said.
The response was instant. N.C. State got three offensive rebounds on its first possession and never really looked back, helped by Miami's lazy propensity to toss up contested jump shots at one end and foul indiscriminately at the other (and the Wolfpack actually made the free throws).
The result was one of the least predictable results of the ACC season so far, unless you subscribe to the theory that it's inexorably in N.C. State's DNA to lose a few games it should probably win and win a few games it should probably lose, in which case it made perfect sense.
But this kind of chaos is inherent in college basketball, a game played by teens and post-teens who are hardly professionals despite the near-professional time commitment required of them, a dynamic compounded in a season where it's hard to draw clear distinctions in the middle of the ACC pack.
N.C. State's players responded to a stern and immediate challenge and Miami's players looked like they glanced at N.C. State's 1-7 ACC record and skipped ahead mentally to Wednesday's home game against Notre Dame. Those are unique conditions that may or may not translate to the future. Gottfried can't drop that hammer all the time.
Still, it was enough to put Larranaga not only in the same folding chair where Gottfried sat Wednesday night, but in the same frame of mind.
“They were able to do what they wanted to do, and we didn't show much resistance,” Larranaga said.
It's hard to say where this win fits for the Wolfpack going forward. One angry speech and two intense practices may have helped N.C. State figure out what it takes for the Wolfpack to play its best. Or they may just have provoked the Wolfpack to a single unexpected win over a single uninspired opponent.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock