Feb. 12, 1984.
That’s the day that Arkansas defeated the No. 1-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels, who brought a 19-0 record into that Sunday afternoon nationally televised contest in Pine Bluff and featured the greatest basketball player who has ever lived. Jordan’s teammates weren’t too shabby either. They included Sam Perkins, who would go on to enjoy a 17-year pro career, and Brad Daugherty, who was the No. 1 pick in the 1986 NBA draft and who played in the pros for eight seasons before injuries forced his retirement. Also wearing Carolina uniforms that day were Matt Doherty, who was coach of the Tar Heels for three seasons earlier this decade, and Buzz Peterson, who coached the UT Vols from 2001 to 2005. (Kenny Smith was on the Tar Heels that year but didn’t play in the game because of a broken wrist.)
The Hogs, who were led that year by Alvin Robertson and Joe Kleine, brought an 18-4 record into the game but were not ranked. The day before, they had defeated SMU in Dallas and were only able to arrive in Pine Bluff a couple of hours before tip-off after a line of severe thunderstorms played havoc with their travel plans. Suffice to say, not exactly an ideal way to get ready for the game.
The Hogs came out roaring and led by as many as seven in the first half before going into halftime with a 38-34 lead. The second half was a tight affair, and Jordan put his greatness on full display and was basically unstoppable in the final 20 minutes, finishing the game with 21 points. With under a minute to play, he drilled a jumper to put the Tar Heels up 64-63.
That’s where the score stood when forward Charles Balentine etched his name into Razorback history by hitting a game-winning, eight-footer from the baseline with seconds left to play. Carolina guard Steve Hale fired off a buzzer-beating shot that rimmed in and (thankfully) back out to give the Hogs a 65-64 win (NBC broadcaster Al McGuire famously screamed, “It’s good!” as Hale’s shot approached the rim).
When all was said and done, Kleine led the Hogs with 20 points, while Leroy Sutton and Balentine chipped in with 11 and 10 points, respectively. It seems that every good upset requires a surprise contribution, and the Razorbacks got theirs from Darryl Bedford, a 6’6″ sophomore forward who had rarely gotten off the bench in his first season and a half as a Hog. But on this day, he scored 12 points and made all six of his field goal attempts. (Unfortunately, the game proved to be Darryl’s one and only shining moment at the U of A; he transferred to Austin Peay State after the season.)
On our list of the great Razorback basketball victories, only the 1994 national championship victory over Duke ranks higher. But in some ways, this one is a more poignant memory, in part because Arkansas basketball wasn’t nearly as big-time as it would be a decade later — consequently, there was much more of a David vs. Goliath feel to the UNC game — and in part because we were both there.
At that time, my friend Blake Budney and I were the ball boys for the Little Rock and Pine Bluff games, and Balentine’s game-winner took place about five feet in front of me. (My dad was sitting in the stands with a friend of mine, who told me that my dad ran down and back up the stairs leading to their section in celebration of Balentine’s shot.) John and his dad sat in the UNC section (John’s grandfather being a Carolina alum and big Tar Heel fan) and were right next to Steve Hale’s parents, whom John reports were very nice and gracious about the outcome, which probably wasn’t the easiest thing to be considering the circumstances.
I’ve seen the tape of this game probably a dozen or so times over the years (talk about something that never gets old). One of my favorite images is of the delirious fans rushing the court the moment the game-ending buzzer sounds. You can see John’s dad among the horde, and he’s wearing a look that combines equal parts joy and disbelief.
The tapestry of Carolina basketball is so rich that I truly doubt that very many Tar Heel fans remember much about this game, if they can recall it at all. But for Arkansas fans, Feb. 12, 1984, is not likely to be forgotten any time soon.
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