A look back: 1986 UALR Trojans held their own in the first half of NCAA Tournament game against Notre Dame

Chapter XVII: Gametime
   Things didn’t exactly go smoothly during the week of the big game.
   On Monday, Newell had to cancel practice because he didn’t have enough healthy bodies to go through with it due to a circulating flu bug. Newell was stricken as well and went home to crawl into bed.
   “I had two shots this morning, but whatever it is is dropping into my chest,” Newell said.
   By Wednesday things were nearly back to normal with only Smith still missing from practice.
   “The flu hasn’t affected our outlook. Everyone’s attitude is good,” Newell said. “Anyone would like to have a chance to play Notre Dame and we’re no exception. They have a great program. They just moved up to No. 10 in the nation so we have everything to gain.”
   Heavy snow fell across the northern states as UALR attempted to get from Little Rock to Minneapolis. Well-wishers sent the players off at the airport and spirits were high, including Clarke, who wore a white sports coat, a pinstripe shirt and a thin, black tie.
   It was determined that landing at Minneapolis was going to be a problem and the pilot diverted the airplane to La Crosse, Wisconsin. A short delay turned into two hours. They were supposed to eat on the airplane, but that meal consisted of a fruit cup and a croissant. They were getting hungry and grumpy as they waited.
   “Hey, not everyone coming here for the NCAA Tournament will get to see La Crosse,” Young joked.
   Finally, they took off on the 22-minute flight to Minneapolis and were greeted by 32-degree temperatures. They went to the Metrodome to practice, where a courtesy car provided to UALR got stolen out of the parking lot.
   But when they arrived at the team hotel a positive vibe smothered the team. Hotel staff and a few fans gave them a standing ovation as they walked through the hotel lobby, where the loudspeakers played Billy Ocean’s song, “When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going.” That song had served as sort of an unofficial anthem for the team.
   Anticipation ran high in both South Bend, Indiana, and Little Rock, Arkansas, as the broadcast hit the air that Friday night.
   KTHV aired a 30-minute special called “UALR to NCAA” beginning at 9 p.m. It was hosted by Morgan and featured a look back at some of the memorable highlights of the year.
   Right on time at 9:30, CBS’ coverage began. “From the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota, it’s the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Trojans against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. And a pleasant good evening everybody, Wayne Larrivee with Gary Thompson, we’ve got Notre Dame and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Little Rock is a school in its second year under Mike Newell, one of the talented young coaches in the nation. They’re an up-tempo team, a lot of fun to watch, they like to run the basketball and are led by a talented guard from Hamburg, Arkansas, in Myron Jackson.”
   As the coaching staffs shook hands before the start of the game, Calvin, who had worked with Phelps in the past, walked right up to the Notre Dame coach, stuck out his right hand and said: “We’re going to kick your ass.”
   Phelps refused to shake hands with him.
   “And they’re all set to go now, the two teams being called to the benches and we’re ready for the starting lineups. Arkansas-Little Rock at 23-10 and Notre Dame at 22-5. Let’s go to the Metrodome public address announcer Bob Casey,” Larrivee said.
   “Ladies and gentlemen, here are the lineups for tonight’s final game.
   - “For Arkansas-Little Rock, starting at a forward, number 30, 6-6, a senior, Michael Clarke. For the University of Notre Dame, at a forward, number 44, 6-10, a senior, Ken Barlow.”
   - “For Arkansas at forward, number 25, 6-6, a senior, Pete Myers. For Notre Dame, a forward, number 15, at 6-7, a junior, Donald Royal.”
   Yes, he really said “For Arkansas.” And no one cared.
   - “For Arkansas-Little Rock, at center, a 6-7 freshman, Paris McCurdy. From Notre Dame at center, number 41, 6-9, a senior, Tim Kempton.”
   - “From Arkansas-Little Rock at guard, number 4, at 6-1, a freshman, Paul Springer. Notre Dame, a guard, a sophomore, number 4, David Rivers.”
The biggest ovation of the introductions is heard.
“Arkansas-Little Rock at guard, number 11, at 6-3, a senior, Myron Jackson. Notre Dame, a guard, number 24, 6-5, a freshman, Mark Stevenson.”
   - “The coach at Arkansas-Little Rock, Mark … Mike Newell. And the Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps.”
Watch the introductions

   The teams took the court with Myers set to jump at center court against Barlow with more than 27,000 people in attendance. Only about 200 of those were UALR fans at the time and just about all of them were wearing buttons that said: “UALR DUNKS DIGGER.”
The temperature was a comfortable 72 degrees inside the dome as Myers quickly leaped and tipped the ball forward to Clarke, who turned and took three steps before dribbling the ball.
   “We’ve got a whistle out front, traveling the call, the first turnover of the game,” Larrivee said.
   But as nervous as Clarke looked on that play, Notre Dame matched it. At the other end, Stevenson traveled just before hitting a 10-foot jump shot.
   “Notre Dame is heavily favored but Mike Newell really thinks his kids have a chance,” Thompson said.
   The game stayed scoreless for about two minutes. After Myers drew a charge against Barlow, Newell hopped off the pale blue kitchen stool he had been sitting on. He clapped his hands, yelling, “Good job Pete.” He wouldn’t spend much more time on that stool the remainder of the game.
Rivers finally broke the ice with 18:12 left in the half, hitting a baseline jump shot.
   “The first two points of the game,” Larrivee said.
   “Took us long enough,” Thompson quipped.
   “Sluggish start for both teams tonight,” Larrivee said.
   Things would heat up. After Myers was called for traveling, Notre Dame made it 4-0 when Rivers fed a perfect alley-oop pass to Barlow for a slam dunk.
   UALR wasn’t rattled. Instead, Springer dribbled down the court and hit Jackson, popping out from the baseline.
  “Jackson fires and puts Little Rock on the board,” Larrivee said.
Watch UALR's slow start

   “Then Springer stole a pass from Rivers and Jackson hit another jump shot from the wing, tying the score 4-4. After a putback by Kempton, Jackson struck again with a baseline jump shot.
   “He’s red hot, he’s got all six Arkansas-Little Rock points,” Larrivee said.
Then UALR took its first lead. Jackson finally missed, but Clarke grabbed the offensive rebound.
   “There’s a tough inside player Michael Clarke, putting it up off the glass,” Larrivee said.
   UALR led 8-6 and took a 10-8 lead into the first media timeout after Jackson grabbed a rebound and outletted to Springer, who hesitated before going right past Rivers for a layup.
   “Springer on the drive, impressively done,” Larrivee said.
   “He lulled Rivers to sleep,” Thompson said.
   Springer held his right hand up high as he ran down the court and the Trojans led 10-8 with 14:26 to play in the first half. Any doubts players might have secretly held about their ability to play with Notre Dame were likely fading quickly. Notre Dame did score the next six points, taking a 14-10 lead with 13 minutes to play after back-to-back jump shots from substitute Joseph Price.
   But Ntore Dame couldn’t put the Trojans away. Clarke took a pass on the inside and attempted a shot that looked short but rolled over the rim and in. Reggie Smith, who had just entered the game, scored after a pass from Myers.
   Notre Dame built leads of 14-10, 16-12, 18-14 and 20-17. Each time, UALR fought back. Jackson then popped off a screen and hit a shot from the right elbow for a 20-19 score with 10:28 to play. On the same play, a foul was called on Notre Dame’s Jim Dolan, who pushed Clarke off the ball. Clarke was awarded two shots and made both, giving the Trojans a 21-20 lead.
   “I think we already knew we could play with them. We were ready to represent Little Rock and let them know they were in for a dog fight,” Springer said.
   After the game’s second media timeout, Jackson took a pass from Worthy and hit a jump shot.
   “They are not intimidated. The Trojans tie it up again,” Larrivee said.
   Myers scored on a putback, then took a pass from Springer.
   “Springer a bullet feed to Myers,” Larrivee said. “Impressively done.”
   But the four-point lead didn’t last. Notre Dame tie it for the ninth time in the first half after a basket by Stevenson. With the score 29-29, Newell had seen enough.
   “God dammit,” Newell screamed from the bench. “Paul, timeout.”
   After UALR took a 33-31 lead, Notre Dame scored eight of the next 10 points. A transition basket by Barlow gave the Irish a 39-35 lead with two minutes to play in the half. Barlow picked up his third foul, sending Clarke to the free-throw line, Clarke went through his regular routine and stepped to the line. His first attempt fell about a foot short for an air ball.
   “Uh oh. That was embarrassing,” Larrivee said.
   “Notre Dame fans are really whooping it up,” Thompson said.
   Undaunted, Clarke took the ball from the official and swished the second for a 39-36 score with 1:55 remaining. It shows a lot of courage,” Thompson said. “It’s tougher to get that second one down after a miss like that.”
   “It’s like throwing a shot put,” Larrivee said.
   After stopping Notre Dame, Myers and Kempton got tangled up near the sideline. Myers ended up stepping on two press tables, while Kempton scaled all four press tables before hopping off to the arena floor.
   “Way over press row,” Larrivee said of Kempton. “and when I mean press row, I’m talking about four press tables.”
   UALR kept the ball and Springer drew Rivers’ third foul, forcing him to sit for the final minute of the half.
   “That’s crucial,” Larrivee said.
   As Rivers left the game, he slung his body down in a chair and kicked the side of the court with his fee. UALR held defensively again and Jackson scored on a baseline jump shot after the Trojans pushed the ball for a 39-38 deficit. The 45-second shot clock was now turned off as Notre Dame held for the last shot of the half.
   “The key is to make sure you don’t shoot it early so the other team can’t come down and get a shot off at the other end,” Thompson warned.
   UALR fouled and Royal attempted a free throw but missed and Clarke tipped the ball back up in the air on the rebound and grabbed it and quickly passed to Springer. He sprinted up court and hit Jackson, who had popped out about as high as the free throw lane arc, 20 feet from the basket.
   “It was a play we ran everyday in practice. I get the outlet and take it down the middle of the floor straight to the lane. I seen Myron cutting out,” Springer said.
   And Jackson nailed it.
   “There’s Clarke again on the rebound. UALR on transition, time running down,” Larrivee said. “There’s Jackson. Yes!!! Myron Jackson got it down. That’s the end of the first half with the score, the Trojans of Arkansas-Little Rock 40, the Irish of Notre Dame 39.”
   “I remember calling that shot. I’ve still got it on tape,” Morgan said. “I remember saying, ’Oh my goodness. What a jump shot by Jackson.”
Watch the end of the first half