Overtime Classic: Pinehurst Resident Recalls Record-Setting Game
To read the story about Frank Corcoran published in USA Today, click here.
The one-and-done nature of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament leads to a lot of tense moments, upsets and long memories.
Frank Corcoran knows a thing or two about the pressure cooker of the tournament. He was recently featured in a story in USA Today where he recalled hitting a last-second shot in Canisius’ 79-78 upset of No. 2 ranked N.C. State in 1956 in a first-round NCAA tournament game.
The game remains in the record book, a four-overtime affair that concluded when he swished home a jumper to end the longest tournament game ever played.
He has a framed photo from The New York Times of him hitting the winning shot in the Carolina room of his Pinehurst home.
A sixth man on that Canisius team from Buffalo that entered the 25-team tournament field unranked and unheralded, Corcoran, 78, looks in good enough shape to take the court today.
“They called me ‘The Fireman,’” says Corcoran. “Because I would come in off the bench and give the team a spark.”
Legendary Everett Case was the coach of that Wolfpack team that entered the tournament as one of the favorites to possibly derail the Bill Russell-led undefeated San Francisco Dons, who eventually claimed their second consecutive championship.
Case certainly provided a little spark to the contest when he was quoted in a Buffalo newspaper as saying he didn’t know much about Canisius. He went on to say that he didn’t even know how to spell the school’s name.
“After we won, some students from the college sent Case a telegram,” Corcoran says. “They spelled out the name of the school … C…A… and put the final score.”
The game was played at Madison Square Garden, a cathedral of college basketball and a fitting backdrop for such an intense game.
“Playing in the Garden was so special,” Corcoran says. “Just the idea of playing in the Garden was special.”
Little did Corcoran know how special the game and his winning shot would be even 56 years later.
“If I knew then how the game would be remembered, what it would mean for the school and the team, I would have probably shot an air ball,” Corcoran says. “But I didn’t have time to think about all that. It was just instinct.”
He got a taste of just how much the shot meant when Canisius students poured out of the Garden stands and hoisted him up on their shoulders.
“They picked me up on their shoulders,” Corcoran says, “and I said ‘Holy, Moly, put me down.’ I was tired and sore. I could hardly breath.”
Corcoran, the sixth man on the squad, says he lacked stamina because he suffered from a heart murmur. And there he was playing in the longest game, not only playing but in there at the end to hit the winning shot.
“I was exhausted,” Corcoran says.
A native of Philadelphia, Corcoran ended up at the small Jesuit school located in Buffalo after being recruited by coach Joe Curran. Going to Canisius with Corcoran was his longtime friend Bob Kelly, who was a starter and a star for the Golden Griffins. He had known Kelly, one of the team’s co-captains, since the third grade.
The pair was part of a Canisius program that went to the NCAA tournament in both 1955 and 1956, losing in the regional finals both years. In 1955, the Golden Griffins were beaten 99-64 in the East Regional finals by LaSalle, the defending national champions, while in 1956 the team lost a close 60-58 contest to Temple.
“We lost pretty badly to LaSalle, but that loss to Temple was a heartbreaker,” says Corcoran of the losses that kept the team from reaching the final four.
The regional finals were also special to Corcoran, he says, because they were played at the Palestra in Philadelphia, another hallowed ground for college basketball and a place where Corcoran used to roam in his childhood days watching college basketball.
After his playing days were over, Corcoran ended up in the financial sector, working for Merrill Lynch in New York City. His career on the court helped him thrive in the financial field.
“There were different times when I would be under pressure,” Corcoran says, “and I would tell myself, ‘Hang in there, don’t lose your cool, don’t panic.’ My experiences in college certainly helped me in that regard.”
After retirement, he and his wife, Nan, moved to Pinehurst. The parents of five children, the Corcorans have 14 grandchildren. The grandchildren love to hear Corcoran tell the story of his historic game-winning shot.
“They tell me, ‘C’mon, Pops, tell us the story,’” Corcoran says. “And I never get tired of telling them.”
Corcoran says he sometimes contemplates his playing days when he is out on his daily walk. He thinks about his time at Canisius, playing in the Aud, the Depression-era gym where the Golden Griffins played their home games. He thinks about the 10,000 fans that packed the Aud, now torn down, on game days. He thinks about the win over N.C. State.
“I think about how nice it was to win that game,” he says. “But then I think about how disappointing it must have been for the guys from N.C. State.”
He recalls sitting down with Kelly several months after that historic win in Madison Square Garden 56 years ago. He remembers telling Kelly, who died several years ago, that he knew Kelly was the better player, the better athlete, someone who did every thing right.
But he still wanted to get in a little ribbing of his longtime friend.
“But you know what I told him?” Corcoran says. “I told him that despite all that, it was my name that would be remembered 50 years later. I told him, you are the better player, but because I hit that one basket, the only one I made in the whole game, people are going to remember me.”
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