GREATEST MOMENTS | Billy Tubbs led Lamar to NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 in 1980


Lamar-greatestIt wasn’t the Sweet 16 in 1980, when the NCAA men’s basketball tournament expanded to 48 teams. Instead, it was just the third round.

But Lamar’s 81-77 victory against No. 2-seeded and fifth-ranked Oregon State to reach the round of 16 was pretty sweet.

The sports moment judged the greatest in Lamar history was the culmination of the Cardinals’ success under head coach Billy Tubbs.

A 1957 Lamar grad, Tubbs would become the 28th coach in major college basketball to win 600 games and guided Oklahoma to the 1988 national championship game.

From 1976-80, Tubbs led the Cardinals to a 75-46 record and the school’s first two NCAA Tournament appearances. Lamar won three straight Southland Conference championships and advanced to the 1980 round of 16, including the upset of Oregon State on March 8, 1980.

Perhaps it’s overlooked because it was the first of four shockers for Ralph Miller’s Beavers. As a No. 1 seed in 1981, they were knocked out in their opener by Kansas State. In 1989, OSU lost to No. 11 Evansville and in 1990 to No. 12-seeded Ball State.

Perhaps it’s underappreciated because of the Lamar’s surprising success under Tubbs and his successor, Bill Foster. The Cardinals won NCAA Tournament games in 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1983. Still, the Cardinals were only a 10th seed in 1980, which irked Tubbs.

“We played Detroit one year and they completely overlooked us,” he recalled in 2003. “It was like, ‘Who’s Lamar?'”

Lamar upset No. 7 seed Detroit, 95-87, in the 1979 NCAA Tournament — the Cardinals’ first tournament game.

In 1979-80, the Cardinals played 11 tournament-bound teams. Still, the tournament selection committee judged Lamar’s schedule the 77th toughest in the nation. The Cardinals shuffled off to the West Regional as a 10 seed.

“Next year we’ll schedule the Lakers,” Tubbs told Sports Illustrated’s Curry Kirkpatrick.

The Cardinals held off No. 7 Weber State 87-86 in the first round after building a 22-point lead. Mike Olliver led the way with 37 points.

In their next game, they led the Beavers 32-16 in the first half, but OSU came back to tie at 45 midway through the second half.

Cestrakiah Lewis and Olliver scored after consecutive steals to put the Cardinals ahead for good. Olliver and B.B. Davis both finished with 18 points, and all five starters finished in double figures. Lewis had 11 points and 11 rebounds.

“To tell you honestly,” Tubbs said before the regional semifinals against Clemson, “the two toughest teams we’ve played this year are (Southland Conference rivals) McNeese State and Southwestern Louisiana.”

The Cardinals led Clemson 47-39 with 15:37 remaining in the game, but the Tigers tied the game at 57 and pulled away to a 74-66 win.

“We had a cold spurt at exactly the wrong moment,” Tubbs said after the game.


But against Oregon State, Lamar scored what the Arizona Daily Star listed this year as the third biggest upset in Pac-12 tournament history. Tubbs listed it as one of his career highlights in 2008.

Oregon State remains the highest-ranked Division I team Lamar has beaten.

Today, the basketball court at Lamar’s Montagne Center is named for Tubbs. He returned to Lamar as athletic director in 2002 and coached the men’s basketball team from 2003-06. He retired in 2011.

Olliver finished his career as the NCAA’s 15th leading scorer of all time with 2,518 points, a Lamar career record.

Davis finished his career as the second-leading scorer with 2,084 points and second-leading rebounder with 1,122 boards in Lamar history.

Clarence Kea, who had 33 points and 19 rebounds against Detroit in the 1979 NCAA Tournament and the inside muscle of the 1979-80 team, still holds Lamar’s career record for career rebounds (1,143).

The Cardinals haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since beating Alabama 73-50 in 1983, and they have made only two tournament appearances since then.

“Lamar really had a long dry spell,” Tubbs said in 2012, “but it has a great tradition in basketball.”

• Cardinals Hall of Honor

Middle and on the cover: Billy Tubbs, on their Lamar sidelines during the 1970s, led the Cardinals to victories against lower seeds in consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in 1979-80. (Courtesy Lamar University Archives)

Monday: Kent State and Lafayette
Tuesday: Lake Superior State and Lamar
Wednesday: LaSalle and Lehigh
Thursday: Liberty and Longwood
Friday: Louisiana Tech and Loyola Maryland

Mike Bambach

Mike Bambach is senior web producer for ASN.