Go back

1986-87 Govs basketball title team to be recognized

During a reunion Feb. 14-15, Austin Peay will welcome back the 1986-87 basketball team that won the Ohio Valley Conference tourney in heart-stopping fashion, upset Illinois in first-round NCAA tourney play and made Dick Vitale stand on his head.

The team will be introduced prior to the 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 14, tip-off of the Govs-Murray State mens basketball contest. A reception, sponsored by the APSU National Alumni Association, will be held at 4:30 p.m. at the Front Page Deli. A casual reception also will be held at Front Page following the contest.
During a reunion Feb. 14-15, Austin Peay will welcome back the 1986-87 basketball team that won the Ohio Valley Conference tourney in heart-stopping fashion, upset Illinois in first-round NCAA tourney play and made Dick Vitale stand on his head.

The team will be introduced prior to the 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 14, tip-off of the Govs-Murray State men's basketball contest. A reception, sponsored by the APSU National Alumni Association, will be held at 4:30 p.m. at the Front Page Deli. A casual reception also will be held at Front Page following the contest.

Members of that team included 6-8 center Darryl Bedford, 6-3 forward Lawrence Mitchell, 6-5 forward Tony Raye, 6-1 guard Richie Armstrong, 6-2 guard Mike Hicks, 6-0 guard Vincent Brooks, 6-8 forward Myron DeVoe, 6-2 guard Kent McKenzie, 6-5 forward Eric Orr, 6-7 center Bob Thomas, 6-2 guard Scott Murphy and 6-9 center Joe Busateri. They were coached by Lake Kelly, in the second year of his second tenure, Steve Hill and Rick Stansbury, now head coach at Mississippi State.

It was a diverse, eclectic group of individuals. In fact, the team's best perimeter player was the 6-8, 260-pound Bedford. Their best inside player was the “cobra-like” Mitchell, who slithered his way through defenses. Hicks, who finished fifth nationally in junior college scoring before coming to APSU, developed into the team's defensive stopper. Armstrong provided leadership and toughness as the point guard, while Tony Raye did the dirty work, defense and rebounding, up front. The key reserves were Brooks, a rail-thin local product who provided long-range ability from the perimeter; Orr, a former starter before a stress fracture to his leg limited him, produced relief for Mitchell and Raye at forward; and Thomas, a physical presence who provided toughness and rebounding from the center spot.

The team was overlooked by most that season. In fact, entering February 1987, the Govs stood only 10-10 and a not-so-tidy 2-5 in the OVC.

But everything changed that February. In fact, if not for a miracle half-court buzzer shot by Murray State's Donnie Mann, the Govs would have swept through the month unscathed. Still, they reeled off six straight wins, finishing OVC play with an 8-6 record, good enough for fourth place and a host spot in the tourney's first round.

All that late-season work appeared ready to crumble with eight minutes remaining in that first-round OVC tourney game. The Govs found themselves down by 22 points to Morehead State. Kelly benched his starters, and the comeback started. The rally was culminated by Raye's steal and slam-dunk in the game's final minute as APSU won, 78-76.

That put the Govs up against Middle Tennessee. This time, the Govs found themselves down by 10 with five minutes left. But then Darryl Bedford took over. In scoring a career-best 36 points, he knocked down the game-tying and -winning buckets in the final two minutes as APSU emerged with an 87-83 verdict.

That set up an OVC title-game match-up with Eastern Kentucky. This time the Govs let a 10-point lead slip away, and the game was tied 68-68 with eight seconds left.
Then Armstrong strolled into the spotlight. Dribbling the ball the length of the court, Armstrong looked to pass and found no one open. With the final ticks slipping away, he launched a 28-footer that swished through the nets, giving the Govs a 71-68 victory and a trip to the NCAA tourney for the first time since 1973-74.

The Govs were seeded 14th and were given no chance against 12th-ranked and No. 3 seed Illinois, Dick Vitale's “sleeper” pick to win it all.

When Mitchell banged in a three-pointer at the first-half buzzer, the two teams were tied at 32. It was then Vitale made his famous promise: “If Austin Peay wins this game, I will stand on my head.” And he did.

With the game tied, Armstrong drove left baseline and dished it underneath to Tony Raye. The then-junior was fouled while shooting. Raye would proceed to use much of the rim on two free tosses, both falling through, and the Govs had the stunning victory.

It placed the Govs against Providence, the Rick Pitino-coached Friars, whose star player was Billy Donovan, now Florida's head coach.

The Govs would build as much as a 10-point lead with six minutes to play. However, foul troubles caught up with the Govs down the stretch. Providence rallied to send it to overtime and, with Bedford fouling out in OT, the Govs chances evaporated.

Still, that 1986-87 group, which finished 20-12, left its mark on the OVC, the NCAA and Austin Peay. In fact, its upset of Illinois still can be found occasionally on ESPN Classic. That upset and the Govs play against Providence even brought Vitale to Clarksville to speak at the spring basketball banquet—and to re-enact his head-standing routine.
—Brad Kirtley