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MISTER CLUTCH
Curry Kirkpatrick
April 10, 1989
With the NCAA championship on the line, Rumeal Robinson converted this free throw with three seconds remaining to play in overtime to give Michigan an 80-79 victory over relentless Seton Hall
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April 10, 1989

Mister Clutch

With the NCAA championship on the line, Rumeal Robinson converted this free throw with three seconds remaining to play in overtime to give Michigan an 80-79 victory over relentless Seton Hall

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In this presidentially decreed era of a kinder, gentler America, it's ironic that a football school would win the national championship in basketball. Furthermore, that university, which gave us Jerry Ford on the gridiron, risked all on the hardwood with an interim coach who looks like Jimmy Carter, and it was led by a player named Rice—no, not Jerry (of the San Francisco 49ers) or Tony (of Notre Dame), both of whom also were named MVP in a couple of fairly huge events this year, but Glen, who scored 31 points. Another guy from that university, name of Rumeal Robinson, who looks and plays like a fullback and normally shoots free throws like one (he converted 64.2% of his foul shots this season), stepped up to the line at the Kingdome in Seattle with three seconds left in the first overtime NCAA title game in 26 years and fluttered up two of the softest feathers anybody had ever seen so that his Michigan team could beat Seton Hall 80-79.

Maybe it was because all these goings-on were so mind-boggling that the Wolverines—specifically, Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, who moonlights as athletic director—still hadn't decided as of Tuesday morning whether to let 44-year-old Steve Fisher have the coaching job permanently. Win a Rose Bowl, as the Wolverines did in January, and you feel as if you can conquer the world—or at least send out a team of headless basketball horsemen, as it were, and conquer the NCAAs. Maybe Bo was waiting for Pete Rozelle to volunteer for the job.

However, as this latest in a decade-long series of tingling championship games (the average margin of victory in the 1980s was 4.1 points) proved, it doesn't seem to matter who's playing in the thing, not to mention who's coaching. This time it was P.J. Carlesimo—a guy with a beard—and a Hall of a team picked to finish seventh in its own league against the RRR boys: Rice, Robinson and Replacement ( Fisher). Fisher must have felt even stranger when a local lawman nearly arrested him for being in the Michigan locker room without a credential before the final. Hey, a quintet of furniture refinishers could be playing the Kumquat Growers' Co-op, and if the NCAA put its logo near center court on a Monday night in April, we would still probably get something approaching:

? Michigan's brilliant senior forward, Rice, kiting in three-pointers from out near Mount Rainier. He finished with 12 baskets, 11 rebounds and those 31 points against the Pirates, and his 184 points in six tournament games broke Senator Bill Bradley's 1965 scoring record of 177.

? Seton Hall's senior guard John Morton whirling through the lane, acrobatically carrying the Pirates from 12 points behind. He had 22 second-half points—35 for the game—including all eight of the Pirates' points during one span to cut the Wolverines' lead to 61-59 with 6:19 to play.

?Forty-four of the dizziest defensive seconds this side of Roller Derby. That stretch brought the Pirates from a 66-61 deficit to a 67-66 lead with 2:13 remaining—snap, crackle, pop, just like that. Surely. Michigan would fold, just as Indiana, UNLV and Duke had earlier in the tournament against the Hall's frenetic second-half pressure. But no. Rice was still steaming. After a Pirate free throw, Michigan was behind by two, 68-66. with 1:12 to go. Did this splendid shooter, whose toughness had been questioned—he once said his proudest accomplishment at Michigan was "never getting injured"—wilt? Hardly. He waited for all of six seconds before drilling a three.

After Wolverine Sean Higgins converted two foul shots to put Michigan ahead 71-68 and Morton responded with his own clutch trifecta—"He was possessed out there," said Higgins of Morton—to tie the game with 25 seconds left, Rice had a chance to win it in regulation. Everybody from Rice himself to the Hall's Australian import, Andrew Gaze, thought he would. "I've never seen a release so quick," said Gaze, who has played in two Olympics. "'What an incredible individual. I thought it was down. Every time Glen released, I thought it was down." However, with one second remaining and Gaze remaining in his face. Rice's shot bounced off the rim.

With 2:50 to go in OT, Morton's trey put the Hall ahead 79-76, but two Pirate possessions with that lead came up empty: "Avast, mateys, trouble to starboard." Sure enough, Wolverine center Terry Mills posted right of the lane, turned and bulled in a banker to narrow the Hall's lead to 79-78 with 56 seconds to play. Michigan, which wound up with a 45-36 rebounding advantage, had owned the boards all night, and the Wolverines took possession of number 45 after Morton missed in the paint with 12 seconds left. They then put the ball as well as the game into Robinson's hands.

Robinson, a 6'2" junior, wanted the burden. "I've been coming down and passing the ball and hiding a lot on last-second shots," he said after finishing with 21 points and 11 assists. "This time I wanted it to be me. I was going to hit it if it was a free throw or not."

It was two free throws. Weaving across the lane with three seconds on the clock, Robinson collided with Seton Hall's Gerald Greene, an old friend from eastern playground days with whom he had been waging an unholy war all evening. Referee John Clougherty, who may be the best in the business—as Carlesimo would acknowledge later—blew the whistle that decided the championship. Perhaps Greene was guilty of nothing more than a simple hand check. Maybe the play should have been allowed to run its course; Robinson was about to pass. But the foul call might have been pure justice. Slightly more than a minute earlier Robinson had fouled Greene, but Greene had missed the front end of a one-and-one. Robinson didn't miss either of his chances.

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