Back and forth, the NCAA championship game swung like a two-man playground bout between Michigan's Glen Rice and Seton Hall's John Morton.
Then Michigan guard Rumeal Robinson took the ball - and the national championship - into his own hands.Robinson kept the ball, got fouled and made two nerve-racking free throws with 3 seconds left in overtime, lifting Michigan to an 80-79 victory and its first NCAA basketball title Monday night. It was the first time an NCAA title game had been decided in overtime since Loyola of Illinois beat Cincinnati in 1963.
Rice, a Michigan senior who was MVP of the Final Four, scored 31 points, giving him 184 points in six games and breaking Bill Bradley's NCAA one-year tournament mark of 177 points. Rice, however, missed a shot with seconds left in regulation that would have broken a 71-71 tie.
That was after Morton, a senior guard who had a game-high 35 points, hit a three-point basket with 24 seconds left, tying the score.
Morton, who brought his team back from a 12-point deficit early in the second half, finally ran out of answers. He missed his last two shots - the latter an air ball from the lane with 2 seconds left on the shot clock.
Michigan rebounded with 10 seconds left, and Robinson dribbled down into the lane, where he collided with Seton Hall point guard Gerald Greene. Greene was called for blocking, and Robinson stepped up to make Michigan history.
"Coach Fisher told me if I had the chance to get the ball up, to get down real quick," said Robinson, who finished with 21 points. "I saw they were getting back on defense kind of slow, so I decided to get it down and get the last shot off. They fouled me, and thank God the free throws went in."
Greene wasn't so sure it was a foul, but he took the coin where it landed.
Seton Hall's last gasp was a jump shot by Daryll Walker that missed as the buzzer sounded. That ended one of the more incredible NCAA tournament runs by a Michigan team and interim coach Steve Fisher, the seven-year assistant who took over for Bill Frieder just before the tournament began.
The Wolverines, who led by five at half time, moved out to a quick 49-37 lead early in the second half and led by 10 with 8:26 left. But they couldn't put the Pirates away.
"When we had a 12-point lead, I kept saying to myself, `One more basket, one more basket and we would have a pretty safe lead,' " Fisher said. "But Seton Hall would not allow that to happen. They turned up the defensive pressure; we stood a little bit, looked a little tired."
Even with junior sharpshooter Andrew Gaze shooting one for five and shut out from the field in regulation, Seton Hall wouldn't go down. The reason was Morton, who scored 17 of his team's last 20 points and made 11 of 26 shots. Morton scored eight straight points as Seton Hall pulled to 61-59 with 6:19 left. He later scored six straight, including a fast-break layup he took all the way that put his team over the top, 67-66, with 2:13 left.
"John took it upon himself to get us back in the game," Seton Hall Coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "When it came down to it, they made a couple of big shots and they made some enormous free throws and we missed a couple. We dug ourselves a hole and I thought our kids just climbed back in by playing exceptional defense in the second half and the overtime."
Seton Hall, though, didn't have the answers for Rice, who blew past screens and three different Pirate defenders: Gaze, Michael Cooper and Walker at the end. Rice's biggest shot may have been a three-pointer over Gaze with 1:03 left in regulation, giving the Wolverines a 69-68 lead. The only thing he didn't do was win the game with that shot that hit the front rim and trickled off.
"I was shocked I missed it," Rice said. "This hasn't hit me yet. Overall this was a great individual achievement but I had a lot of support from a lot of teammates."