A look back: Miracle finish started another winning streak for UALR on way to 1986 NCAA Tournament

Chapter XI: Redemption
   “I can’t wait to go to Abilene, Texas,” Newell said as he left Houston Baptist’s Sharp Gymnasium.
Coming off the Houston Baptist debacle, UALR had to play Hardin-Simmons, the last team to beat the Trojans before the nine-game winning streak began.
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
   This wasn’t quite the same Hardin-Simmons team that had rolled into Statehouse Convention Center earlier in the season and obliterated the Trojans. Guard Ricky Henry, who was a starter averaging 11.8 points, had quit the team. Newell was playing mind games with his team, trying to motivate them. He’d also use his assistants to build the players up, kind of a good-cop, bad-cop.
   UALR was fragile. Playing before a hostile crowd of 1,711 at the Mabee Complex, the Trojans never led in a close first half and trailed 42-37 at halftime.
   “Their fans were rowdy as heck, which was fun,” Morgan said. “I remember they were calling Mike and his wife, Margo, Ken and Barbie. They had something for all the guys.”
   The second half was more of the same. UALR tied the game at 42-42 when Myers stepped in front of a pass and raced down the court. He missed a contested layup, but Worthy was there to grab it, scoring as he was fouled. His free throw with 19:09 to play tied the game.
Watch Worthy's putback

   From there, Hardin-Simmons broke it open. Two free throws by Craig Sladek made it 55-47 with 11:45 to play.
   UALR gradually closed the gap and trailed by two points when Hardin-Simmons’ Greg Way went up and blocked a shot by Worthy with 3:25 to play. To the dismay of the vocal crowd, the officials called goaltending, counting the basket and tying the game 65-65.
   Neither team scored for the next two minutes until Worthy grabbed a rebound after a miss by Way and was fouled. He made the first free throw for a 66-65 UALR lead, but missed the second as Phil Gates grabbed the rebound. Ata timeout, Newell decided to insert McCurdy, who hadn’t played in the second half, into the game for Worthy. It didn’t immediately look like a good decision. On a free throw miss, Gates grabbed the offensive rebound over McCurdy and scored with 23 seconds remaining to give the Cowboys a 67-66 lead.
   Springer raced up court toward the UALR bench and Newell called timeout with 18 seconds remaining. Knowing he was setting up a shot for Jackson, who had made 7 of 21 field-goal attempts, Newell wanted another rebounded in the game with Clarke already fouled out. Keep in mind that Covington, UALR’s tallest player at 6-11, wasn’t available. He wasn’t happy with McCurdy for allowing that offensive rebound, but left him in.
   UALR inbounded the ball and held it. Jackson was on the left wing, Smith on the right wing with Springer up top. Myers was being checked inside the paint and McCurdy was stationed around the left block.
   With nine seconds remaining, Jackson made his move. He dribbled the ball with his right hand coming across the top of the free throw lane. Hardin-Simmons was in a man-to-man defense, but rotated to form a double-team on Jackson as he came across.
   Smith, now wide open, called for the ball. Jackson didn’t want to give it up. He took three dribbles, was blocked off by the double team and planted with his left foot as he came to a jump shop with the right. He went up for the jump shot as the Hardin-Simmons defenders went for the block.
   Seven seconds!
   Suddenly, he reversed while at the apex of his jump, blipping the ball back to Springer, who was positioned about four feet outside the jump circle at the top of the free throw lane.
   Springer, wide open, caught the ball as he moved toward the basket. He stepped with his left as he dribbled, then planted his right foot as it hit the right elbow of the free throw lane. His shot was a runner that he got off just as the Hardin-Simmons defenders missed an opportunity to block. He was well into the free throw lane as he finally let the ball go.
   The ball had a high arc as it sailed toward the basket. It hit the front left of the rim, then the back of the rim before falling off. McCurdy jumped but wasn’t in position to grab the rebound. Gates reached out with his left hand for the ball, then pulled to his body with his right hand as his feet hit the floor.
   Gates’ momentum was carrying him toward the baseline and McCurdy helped him out, giving him an unnoticed little shove. The game official was in perfect position to make a call, but didn’t. Gates planted his left foot but was off balance.
   “He’s traveling!” Morgan shouted on the broadcast. “Call it.”
   It also appeared his right foot might have been on the out-of-bounds line.
   “I thought Paul’s shot was in, but it came out,” McCurdy said. “He really traveled when he got the rebound and then stepped out of bounds, but they didn’t call it.”
   Seven Hardin-Simmons cheerleaders were on the left baseline and then went scrambling as Gates started to fall out of bounds toward them. As he fell, he leaped and tried to throw the ball back in bounds to two of his teammates stationed in the paint.
   He never saw McCurdy, who had slid across the lane and was now in front of the Hardin-Simmons players, near the left block. Hardin-Simmons fans raised their arms in anticipation of the upset victory. Gates slung the ball low, back onto the court. McCurdy had to reach low to scoop the ball just outside the left block of the free throw lane.
   In one motion, he caught the ball and went up wit the shot, the ball rolling off his left fingertips just as the light on the backboard, signaling the end of regulation, lit up
   The ball hit the backboard, just above the top left corner of the shooting square and dropped straight through the net as Gates stood up and watched in obvious disbelief.
Watch McCurdy's basket

   “I guess Coach Mike Newell put me in at the right time,” McCurdy said. “I went up for the ball and had it in my hands but Gates took it from me. I thought the ref would call a foul but he didn’t. I didn’t know how much time was on the clock but I knew I was going to put it up no matter what.”
   UALR players, led first by Severn, leaped off the bench. The five Trojans on the court all jumped in the air as Springer raised his arms. Had there been instant replay, it might not have counted. Today, the video is grainy and it’s tough to see if McCurdy got it off in time. It was close. And the referee on the baseline would have never been able to see both the light and McCurdy from the angle he was watching from.
   “When Gates got the rebound, I was looking for the official to call traveling. I turned back and Paris had the ball and was putting it back in,” Newell said. “I’ll take the basket over the traveling anytime.”
Officials also sprinted off the court as UALR held on for a victory it might not have earned.
   “If the official makes the call, they get to set their defense and we definitely don’t get an easy shot,” Dittman said. “Basketball is kind of funny that way. It gives and it takes.”
   Newell sprinted to center court, almost looking like he can’t believe it as he pumped his fist in the air.
   “I’m too excited to think,” said McCurdy, who finished with 4 points and wasn’t officially credited with a steal on the final play. “All I knew is I had the ball and I was going to put it in.”
   And today, Springer has vivid memories of the finish.
   “That’s the game I remember most,” He said. “I remember everything about that one.”