Washington - Following a disappointing 69-58 loss to North Carolina State in Fridays first round of the NCAA Tournament, MSU mens basketball associate head coach Brian Gregory quietly sat in the corner of the Spartans locker room.
With his head in his hands, suit jacket off and tie slightly loosened, Gregory searched for a reason why the Spartans were exiting the tournament after one game for the first time since 1995.
You start wondering, Did we really just run out of gas? he said.
The last time Gregory and the Spartans (19-12) were in the MCI Center locker room, the mood was much different.
At halftime, MSU owned a 12-point lead at 30-18 after forcing the Wolfpack (23-11) offense to 6-of-24 shooting.
Gregory said the defensive effort in the opening half made the loss even more disappointing.
Anytime you defend as well as you did in the first half and you go out and dont defend as well in the second half, theres going to be frustration, he said.
But the exhausted, disappointed, angry and frustrated looks on the faces of his players had to be there.
I think if you dont see frustration, you have to worry about what kind of kids you have, he said.
One Spartan who had been in the locker room after numerous tournament wins, junior forward Al Anagonye, said he knows he wont forget being ousted from the tournament this early.
If it doesnt (bother you), you shouldnt play at Michigan State, Anagonye said. We had a chance - we had a chance to win a championship and we blew it.
Anagonye and junior forward Adam Ballinger have had a part in three straight Final Fours before having the streak snapped Friday in the first round.
For me and Ballinger, its more on a sour note because weve been here the whole time, Anagonye said.
The Wolfpack limited Anagonyes inside touches and the 6-foot-8 veteran could muster just two field goal attempts on his way to scoring two points.
But his final stat line isnt what he was concerned with.
Its more frustrating losing the game, he said. Ill tell you right now, Ill go all game long and not score any points, and Ill be happy if we win the game.
But now, with me not being able to score and us losing, its like double frustration.
Freshman guard Kelvin Torbert felt the frustration too, and he said it was extra frustrating to come back in the locker room after being outscored 51-28 in the second half.
We really had the momentum going into halftime, and they came out and attacked us early in the second half, Torbert said. That really hurt us, and I dont think we responded or bounced back.
In the tournament you cant play one half of basketball, because youll never win.
And while the players lamented on what happened on the floor, Gregory realized something for the first time that eased the pain for a second before it stung even more.
I think what these guys need to understand is just how close we were to winning another Big Ten Championship and how close we were to advancing here, he said. Young guys need to know that inches make the difference between champions and normal teams.
Its going to be a lesson that needs to be taught and emphasized every day.