Rumeal Robinson made the first free throw and stepped away, his right fist in the air.
The burden of underachievement--Michigan's and his own--was almost gone.
With three seconds left in the first overtime national championship game in 26 years, he had tied the score against Seton Hall. Back to the line, one more free throw. He made it, and with it gave Michigan an 80-79 overtime victory in front of 39,187 at the Kingdome for its first National Collegiate Athletic Assn. championship.
Seton Hall, which fought back from 12 points down behind John Morton's driving, shooting, 25-point, second-half performance, had one more shot.
The Pirates threw a long pass downcourt, and Daryll Walker and Gerald Greene both put their hands on the ball. Walker pulled away, and put up a three-point attempt that banked off the glass and glanced off the rim.
With that, Michigan won the final this time after failing twice, in 1965 and 1976.
With that, Michigan interim coach Steve Fisher won his sixth consecutive game after replacing Bill Frieder, who left to go to Arizona State two days before the tournament. With that, Michigan shut down the old Wolverine cliche--great talent, great fold in the tournament.
This time, they won the six in a row it takes to be national champion, beating Illinois by two points in the final seconds of the semifinals, and beating Seton Hall by one point in overtime.
"The ball bounced our way, and we capitalized and won a national championship," Fisher said. "You start the tournament tomorrow and you might have four different people. Maybe it was as much luck as commitment, but right now, we're national champions, and no one else can say that."
Robinson went to the line with three seconds left after his weaving, full-court drive ended with official John Clougherty calling Greene for a blocking foul in the lane.
In a loss to Wisconsin this season, Robinson missed two free throws with his team trailing by one with seven seconds to play. He has since spent plenty of time staying away from such situations.
"I wasn't going to hide this time," Robinson said.
A 64% free-throw shooter, Robinson made both shots on this Monday night.
"Thank God I could," he said. "They went in for me and we're the national champs."
For weeks after the Wisconsin loss, he shot at least 100 free throws after every practice.
The practice paid off in a big way.
It also paid off for Fisher, who has been assured of a job interview with Bo Schembechler, the Michigan athletic director and football mogul.
"I think we ought to interview Steve Fisher," Schembechler said after congratulating the national champions in the locker room. "We'll certainly do that."
Said Fisher: "I don't know what's going to happen. I'm not going to think about it. Good things will happen."
For Seton Hall (31-7), the road ended.
"Michigan is a great basketball team. They played a little better than we did and deserve to be the national champion. When it came down to it, they made a couple of big shots and some enormous free throws," Seton Hall Coach P.J. Carlesimo said.
Michigan very nearly won this game in regulation. Had Glen Rice's shot just before time ran out gone in, it would have been a most fitting end. It was Rice who led this team here. And it was Rice who scored 31 points including five three-pointers, despite the frantic defense of Andrew Gaze, Michael Cooper, Walker and Morton. Each took their turn defending him and were mostly unsuccessful.
Morton, who scored 35 points, had hit a three-pointer with 25 seconds left in regulation, tying the score, 71-71. With one second left, Rice was open for another three-pointer.
He was the player Michigan wanted to take the shot, but this one rimmed off. "I thought Glen's shot was going in," Fisher said.
It was one of those that didn't. He finished 12 of 25 from the field, five of 12 from three-point range, and had 11 rebounds.
With his performance, he became the leading scorer in Big Ten history, and the all-time scoring leader in an NCAA tournament, surpassing Bill Bradley's 1965 record of 177 points in five games. Rice finished with 184 points in six.
Seton Hall, a team with a remarkable ability to come back, did so again.
"I kept thinking one more basket, one more basket would put them down double-digits for good when we were up by 12," Fisher said.
It never came.
Morton drove his way to 25 points in the second half, scoring 17 of Seton Hall's last 20 points in regulation, including eight straight.
It was Morton who took up the slack for Gaze, who scored only five points, making just one three-pointer.
"I was working so hard on defense, I lost my focus," said Gaze, who guarded Rice most of the game.
When the first half ended, Gaze and Pookey Wigington had the same number of points--two--and that spelled trouble for Seton Hall, which trailed, 37-32.
The lead was 12 when Morton started the comeback, but he couldn't bring them back far enough.
"You can talk about specific things we did or didn't do, and we had a lot of things we didn't do or might do differently, but it's over," Carlesimo said.
"When we win, we take credit for the other team not playing as well as they 're capable of playing, and Michigan had an awful lot to do with us not playing as well as we can play. . . . Right now, it just seems difficult to put it in perspective, because we're disappointed. . . . We just didn't have quite enough today."
Michigan (30-7) becomes a national champion with the dubious distinction of having lost to Alaska Anchorage, a Division II school. But still, an NCAA champion is an NCAA champion.
The long season came down to one call--and Robinson's two shots.
Greene was the defender on the play, the one called for blocking.
"I just saw him penetrate to the hole and I just tried to cut him off at the angle, but we collided and the official called the foul," Greene said. "It could have gone either way."
With Robinson's record, so could the free throws. But both ends of the one-and-one went down.
"Thank God," Robinson said. "Thank God."
MICHIGAN ACHIEVES A FIRST IN FOOTBALL, BASKETBALL
Michigan's victory Monday night at Seattle made the Wolverines the first team to win the Rose Bowl and the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. basketball championship the same year. Several others came close:
1940: USC beat Tennessee, 14-0, in the Rose Bowl, but lost to Kansas, 43-42, in the West Regional final. There was an East-West format rather than a Final Four held that year, with no third-place game played.
1952: Illinois beat Stanford, 40-7, in the Rose Bowl, but only won the third-place game in basketball, 67-64, over Santa Clara.
1959: California beat West Virginia, 71-70, in basketball, but lost the Rose Bowl to Iowa, 38-12.
1965: Michigan beat Oregon State, 44-7, in the Rose Bowl, but lost the national championship to UCLA, 91-80.
OVERTIME GAMES NCAA championship overtime games:
Year Score 1989 Michigan 80, Seton Hall 79, OT 1963 Loyola, Ill. 60, Cincinnati 58, OT 1961 Cincinnati 70, Ohio State 65, OT 1957 North Carolina 54, Kansas 53, 3 OT 1944 Utah 42, Dartmouth 40, OT
NCAA TOURNAMENT SCORING LEADERS The top aggregate scorers in NCAA tournament history:
PTS PLAYER SCHOOL YR G PPG 184 Glen Rice Michigan 1989 6 30.7 177 Bill Bradley Princeton 1965 5 35.4 167 Elvin Hayes Houston 1968 5 33.4 163 D. Manning Kansas 1988 6 27.2