A look back: The 1986 UALR Trojans had the officials steal a game from them on way to NCAA Tournament

Chapter X: Rip-off
   After close victories over Southeastern Louisiana and Centenary, the Trojans had improved to 13-9 and had shot at least 45 percent from the field in each of the past eight games, better than 50 percent in the past six.
2011 marks the 25th
anniversary of UALR's
upset of Notre Dame in
the 1986 NCAA Tournament.
Coach Mike Newell is being
inducted into the UALR
Athletics Hall of Fame on
January 29. BTH takes a look
back at 1986 with Jeffrey
Slatton's book, written in 2006.
   But if the streak was to continue, they’d have to do so in a house of horrors so to speak: Houston Baptist’s Frank and Lucille Sharp Gymnasium. It was legendary. It was also small, loud and more suited to host high school games than Division I college basketball.
   Officially, it seated 1,500. They’d cram more than 1,800 in there on occasion, especially if the Huskies were playing well.
Sharp Gym as it looks today
  It was a lot like Trojan Fieldhouse with one major exception. Trojan Fieldhouse had a lot more space around the perimeter of the court. Sharp Gymnasium was about like playing inside a tightly-packed room.
   “It’s not a pleasant place to play,” Morgan said. “It’s not a place you want to play college basketball in. Trojan Fieldhouse was nicer than that.
   Sharp had been unkind to UALR before. The 1982-1983 Trojan team had a nine-game winning streak snapped in a 57-55 defeat after they blew an 18-point lead. UALR had won just once in eight trips to Sharp, and that came in their inaugural Division I season of 1979-1980. Even it came in overtime.
   “We’re definitely not going down there overconfident,” Newell said. “We do expect a tough game. We’d be disappointed if we didn’t get a tough game. It’s a small gymnasium, but we’ve been in plenty of tough places before. They’re all tough on the road.”
The Trojans playing at Sharp Gymnasium

   There was even a setback of sorts before the teams ever took the court. Storms and tornadoes rampaged the area that night and official Dale Hudson of Dallas, who was assigned by the TAAC to work the game, was unable to get to Houston.
   Houston Baptist Athletic Director Ed Billings pulled Newell out of the locker room before the game to inform him of the situation. One official, James Boroughs, ad arrived. But Billings told Newell they needed another in order to play the game.
   And luckily, Billings had the perfect replacement in Houstonian Larry Ermis -- a local high school official.
   “I’m one of those guys that’s like, yeah, lets just play the game,” Newell said.
   The Trojans led by as many as six points but fell behind by eight points with 3:08 to play before halftime. A three-point play by Myers tied the game before Houston Baptist’s Arthur Walton picked up a loose ball after a blocked shot and hit a baseline jump shot with 4 seconds remaining to give the Huskies a 41-39 halftime lead.
   UALR jumped on Houston Baptist at the start of the second half, taking a 62-51 lead with 9:58 to play on a Springer jump shot in the paint. UALR still led 80-71 after a slam dunk by McCurdy with 1:42 to play.
   That’s when things started to unravel. Up 82-79 with eight seconds remaining, Springer was fouled and went to the free-throw line for a one-and-one. He stood about one pace from the free throw line, stepping up and toeing the line as the official handed him the ball. One bounce. Another bounce. He bent his knees deeply, put the ball just above his head and let it go with a perfect stroke.
   It swished.
  The second. Same routine. Same swish.
   UALR’s bench celebrated. The Trojans led by five points with eight seconds to play.
   Houston Baptist inbounded the ball to Fred Goporo. As McCurdy stepped in front of him, Ermis called a blocking foul with five seconds remaining.
   UALR was still OK. Newell had been doing a defense-for offense substitution with Clarke and Severn in the final minutes of the game. Severn was waiting by the scorer’s table, but had yet to be buzzed in when Ermis handed the ball to Goporo to shoot free throws. The horn sounded and Severn jogged out onto the court. Seeing the error, Ermis signaled for Severn to return to the scorer’s table.
   Houston Baptist Coach Tommy Jones sprung to life, screaming for a technical foul. Ermis paused, looked at the bench and called the technical foul for an “illegal substitution.”
   Can you believe that? Newell said.
   Goporo would get a one-and-one, then a technical foul shot. He made both ends of the one-and-one, but missed the technical shot as UALR continued to lead 84-81.
   This still looked like a victory.
   Houston Baptist inbounded the ball to Goporo, who quickly drove to the basket and Ermis called another blocking foul on Jackson with three seconds remaining. Both fouls could have just as easily been ruled incidental contact. Goporo made the first for an 84-82 score. Needing a miracle, he intentionally missed the second. Bruno Kongawoin, a 6-8 junior, grabbed the rebound and scored to tie the game 84-84 right at the buzzer.
   That’s five points in eight seconds without any available timeouts and no three-point line. UALR probably could have just stood there and let Houston Baptist drive the court for a layup when it was 84-79 and would have come away the winner.
   Newell could hardly contain himself. Before the overtime could even start, he picked up a technical foul. Goporo made both shots, then Kongawoin hit a jump shot in the paint for an 88-84 lead.
  With 1:43 remaining, Houston Baptist led 94-88. But the confident Trojans kept hanging around. A three-point play by McCurdy and a jump shot by Jackson that banked in made it 95-93 with 31 seconds to play.
   George Negron scored on a layup and was fouled by Springer for a 97-93 score. At the other end, Springer found Jackson for a jump shot, cutting the lead to 97-95 with 12 seconds remaining.
   Houston Baptist was able to inbound the ball and Arthur Goudeau ran off 10 seconds before Springer could foul him with two seconds to play. He missed the front end of the one-and-one and UALR rebounded. But before the Trojans could set up a final shot, Goporo stole the ball away and held on for the victory. Arthur Walton scored a career-high 30 points for Houston Baptist. Goporo also had a career high 29. It overshadowed 30 points by Myers and 24 by Jackson.
   After the game, Arkansas Gazette reporter Jake Sandlin talked with TAAC supervisor of officials Charles McCarthy, who almost unbelievably was in attendance and let all of the shenanigans go unchallenged.
   “I don’t know. We’ll have to get out the rule book,” McCarthy said.
   Newell didn’t need one.
   “All a player has to do before checking into a game is check in with the scorer, which Dean did, and wait for the buzzer, which he did, and wait for the official to wave him in,” Newell said. “That is not a technical. They made the correct call when the y sent Severn back to the table.”
   Still, the nine-game winning streak was over. The next morning, it got worse. The game tape showed the incident perfectly.
   Then it got even worse than that. Billings informed Newell that Ermis had been a 1968 graduate of Houston Baptist. Even though Billings knew about it, he failed to inform Newell.
   And to make matters even worse than that, Newell also learned that according to TAAC rules, the game could have been officiated by one official in an instance like this. Ermis should have never been allowed to go anywhere near the court.
   “I don’t think Billings acted professionally by withholding that information. He told me Ermis was there and that Ermis is a conference official,” Newell said. “I need to know all the facts before I can make the right decision.”
   Newell knew his team had been riding a high for weeks and needed them to maintain. He wanted to put this game out of their minds as quickly as possible. He told the reporters on the trip the officiating wasn’t the difference.
   “UALR is a first-class program. We have too much class to talk about the officiating,” he said.
That’s not what he really wanted to say.
   “They literally screwed us,” Newell said, getting mad as he thought back 20 years. “That damn game down there. That was an embarrassment to basketball.”
   They rode the bus nearly eight hours to Abilene, Texas, and set up shop. Newell had one more day to build his team back up for a game against Hardin-Simmons.
   And Newell wasn’t much for building his teams up.