A look back: The 1986 UALR Trojans wrapped up the road trip and returned home as champs

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Chapter XII: Home
   UALR was back in the win column but still had three more games to complete the road trip.
   “You just couldn’t believe what was happening,” Morgan said. “You had to be traveling with the team to appreciate what was happening to UALR basketball and UALR athletics. For me, it was like being a part of something good.”
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.
   The Trojans traveled to Statesboro, Georgia, on February 13 to take on Georgia Southern and Jackson had 29 points to lead UALR to an 83-74 victory. Jackson scored 15 of UALR’s first 20 and the Trojans raced to a 58-42 lead after a baseline jump shot by Myers with 13:06 to play. Georgia Southern got as close as 65-60 with 5:51 to play before the Trojans put the game out of reach. Myers finished with 21 points and Springer 9 assists as UALR improved to 15-10 overall and 9-2 in the TAAC.
   Up next was a trip to Macon, Georgia, to face the Mercer Bears, who always seemed to be a thorn in UALR’s side. The Trojans needed a victory to clinch the regular season championship and the right to host the semifinals and championship of the conference tournament at Statehouse Convention Center. UALR made just 13 of 30 first-half field goals and trailed 35-29 at halftime. Midway through the second half, the Trojans finally got untracked. A Clarke tip-in and a free throw by Campbell gave UALR a 43-37 lead.
   UALR nursed the lead down the stretch, but after Myers missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Mercer’s Elston Harris scored on a putback with 12 seconds remaining for a 56-54 score. Mercer called timeout.
   UALR couldn’t get the ball inbounds and called a timeout to keep possession. Then after getting the ball in to Myers, Mercer fouled. With a one-and-one, Myers made the first and missed the second for a 57-54 score. Mercer missed and fouled Myers again. This time he missed. Harris scored on a layup with one second remaining but the Bears were out of timeouts and UALR held on for a 57-56 victory.
   “It feels great to win the championship,” Newell said. “But remember, that is not our ultimate goal. The main goal is to get into the NCAAs. I’m really happy for our seniors and the people of Little Rock.”
   But in the locker room after the game, he was firm with the team.
   “Let’s don’t forget about what we’ve got left to do. Hey, this is great to win the TAAC conference. But all that does is give us the right to host it. Most important are the three playoff games,” he said.
video
Newell in the locker room
   But before they could get back home, the Trojans had one more test, a no conference game at Texas-San Antonio.
   UALR struggled throughout but used an intensive press to force the Roadrunners into second-half turnovers. Five of nine free throws in the last 28 seconds clinched a 81-76 victory and an 8-1 record on the road trip.
   UALR actually led 45-36 at halftime, but saw the Roadrunners cut the lead to 74-72 with 1:16 remaining. After a timeout, McCurdy grabbed an offensive rebound and scored. He grabbed another offensive rebound and was fouled, hitting one of two attempts. Jackson, who had 30 points, and Myers each hit two free throws for the final margin.
   UALR had been 9-9 when it started the road trip. Now the Trojans were 17-10 and the regular-season TAAC champions. And people seemed to notice.
   The Trojans returned home for a February 22 game against Samford and a Statehouse Convention Center record crowd of 4,829 attended.
   Myers was on fire, scoring 34 points on 15 of 21 shooting to lead the Trojans to an easy 87-68 victory. But Myers wasn’t finished. As UALR wrapped up the regular season with a February 24 home game against Georgia State, only 3,981 attended what would become a history-making game.
   Myers scored 37 points and grabbed 18 rebounds to lead the Trojans. The 37 points was a school record for a NCAA Division I game, breaking the just-established record of 34. Again, Myers made 15 of 21 field goals. He also had 4 assists and 5 rebounds.
   Despite the easy victory, Newell wasn’t pleased.
   “That was the worst exhibition of basketball we’ve had this year in the last 15 minutes. We played no defense. It was ridiculous,” Newell said. “They should’ve kicked our butt in the second half. When you put six or seven guys in who aren’t ready to play, they stink it up. For 15 minutes, it looked like a junior high game.”
   Perhaps Newell was just playing mind games. After all, UALR held a 58-27 lead with 14:34 remaining and the outcome was never in doubt.