It was 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, and Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner was in bed but still awake, responding to text messages. One came in from a friend at Memphis.
It was a reminder that, after losing to Syracuse to end the regular season and to Pittsburgh in the ACC tournament, Tuesday night’s 75-63 win over Indiana in the opening round of the NIT staved off a three-game losing streak. Why someone would text Pastner in the middle of the night to inform him of that fact probably requires some explanation.
Expected to be among the weaker power-conference teams in the country, the Yellow Jackets have gone the whole season without a three-game losing streak. And the win over Hoosiers means that Pastner can still claim that, after eight seasons, he has never suffered a three-game losing streak as a head coach.
Among the five power conferences, only two coaches can make the claim that they’ve made it through the past eight seasons without a three-game losing streak. Pastner is one, and the other is Kentucky coach John Calipari, for whom Pastner worked one season at Memphis.
“There’s no record, it’s not going to last forever, but I think it’s pretty darn cool to say, in the last eight years, there’s only two coaches,” Pastner said. “One’s in the hall of fame and the other’s trying to survive.”
More impressively, Kentucky is the only Division I team that has gone the past eight seasons without a three-game losing streak. Calipari started Memphis’ run of seasons without a three-game losing streak in the 2005-06 season, which Pastner extended through last season, the 11th in a row. Under the direction of Pastner’s replacement Tubby Smith, the Tigers lost four in a row near the end of the season.
It’s possible, if unlikely, that another coach besides Pastner and Calipari kept a personal streak alive at one school and then continued his own run, as Pastner has done, at a second school. Seven ACC teams lost three or more in a row this season alone. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski most recently lost three in a row in the 2015-16 season. North Carolina and Roy Williams had a three-game losing streak in 2013-14.
Michigan State and Tom Izzo? This season.
Kansas and Bill Self? 2012-13.
Villanova and Jay Wright? 2012-13.
It’s another remarkable, if slightly random, accomplishment for Pastner, the ACC’s coach of the year, and the Jackets, now 18-15 after the first-round NIT win. They’ll play the winner of Wednesday night’s Georgia-Belmont winner. If the Bulldogs win, the game will be played in Athens. If the Bruins prevail, it would be played at McCamish Pavilion. The game will be played Sunday at noon on ESPN, regardless of game site.
Pastner recognizes there’s no plaque given for the achievement. It obviously doesn’t make him a better coach than Krzyzewski or any other luminaries in the profession. But he takes great pride in it.
“I’m telling you, it’s hard to do,” he said.
First, he gave credit to players at Tech and Memphis for having the resilience not to let a two-game losing streak spiral.
“But secondly, it’s a direct reflection on the power of positivity,” said Pastner, something of an expert on the topic.
With the dismal expectation laid before him, Pastner began the season figuring the streak would bite the dust, perhaps several times.
“That streak was ending,” he said.
But, after decisive losses to Penn State and Tennessee, the Jackets went on the road and beat VCU in overtime, giving the Rams their only home loss of the season.
They beat Clemson to stop the second two-game losing streak. Then came the win over Florida State (a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament) after losses to Virginia and Virginia Tech. Wins over Tusculum, Pittsburgh and finally Indiana ended the past three two-game losing streaks.
Pastner recalled other escapes. In March 2015, Memphis beat Connecticut on the Huskies’ senior day to end a two-game slide. In February 2011, they went on the road to beat NCAA Tournament-bound Gonzaga to stop another two-game losing streak.
Remarkably, Pastner has had one three-game losing streak in his entire career, as a college player at Arizona and then as an assistant to coach Lute Olson and Calipari at Memphis — a string of Wildcats defeats in the 2005-06 season to North Carolina, USC and UCLA. Pastner was an assistant coach on that team.
“I’ve blanked those from my memory bank,” said Pastner, who added that he managed to avoid three-game losing streaks with his high-school and AAU teams.
When he got the text message early Wednesday, his options to share the good news were limited.
“My wife (Kerri), I told her,” he said. “She was like, I’m sleeping. Leave me alone.”