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THE HIGH SCORERS : Morton’s Aim Puts Seton Hall Within Range in Second Half

Times Staff Writer

Seton Hall Coach P.J. Carlesimo blanched when guard John Morton took an ill-advised three-point shot a minute into the second half of Monday night’s National Collegiate Athletic Assn. championship game against Michigan.

Morton soon found himself on the bench.

“After Coach pulled me, the assistant coaches talked to me and told me to do what I’d been doing all year,” Morton said.

Morton didn’t remain on the bench for long.

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He scored a career-high 35 points in an 80-79 overtime loss to the Wolverines.

The Pirates, who trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half, went to Morton, who scored 25 second-half points.

“All year long, when the team needed me, I’ve stepped through in the clutch,” Morton said. “Today I started off slow, but I came through.”

Morton’s teammates could tell that he was focused.

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“I saw it in John’s eyes,” said forward Daryll Walker. “He wanted it bad.”

Guard Gerald Greene kept feeding Morton in the second half.

“John was hot, so I just tried to get him the ball,” Greene said. “I’ve never seen him in a groove like that.”

Morton scored 17 of Seton Hall’s last 20 points, including a one-handed layup that gave the Pirates a 67-66 lead with 2:13 remaining in regulation.

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After Michigan took a 71-68 lead when Sean Higgins made two free throws with 34 seconds remaining in regulation, Morton sank a three-point shot over Glen Rice with 25 seconds left to send the game into overtime, 71-71.

After giving Seton Hall a 79-76 lead when he made a three-point shot with 2:50 remaining in the five-minute overtime period, Morton missed two crucial shots.

He missed a driving flip shot that would have given Seton Hall a five-point lead with 1:35 remaining.

After Michigan trimmed the Pirates’ edge to 79-78 on Terry Mills’ follow shot with 56 seconds remaining, Seton Hall ran an isolation play along the baseline for Morton, who shot an airball as he drove on Rice with 12 seconds left in overtime.

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“The last two shots were called (for the) baseline to isolate me going one-on-one on the man defending me,” Morton said. “They both fell short, but that comes with the game.”

Carlesimo said: “We ran baseline because of what John had done for us. He took it upon himself to get us back into the game. He made every big shot as we came back and a couple of times he put us ahead.”

After Morton’s airball, Rice got the rebound with nine seconds remaining.

The Wolverines worked the ball to Rumeal Robinson, who was fouled by Greene with three seconds remaining.

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“I saw him (Robinson) penetrate to the hole and I just tried to cut him off at the angle, but we both collided and the official (John Clougherty) called the foul,” Greene said. “I felt I was in good enough defensive position to pick up the foul, but the ref called it a block.

“The call could have gone either way. But I don’t think they should have called a foul like that in the championship game.”

Did Carlesimo think the foul should have been called?

“John Clougherty (who called the foul) to me is one of the best officials in the country. We couldn’t ask for anyone else that we’d rather have make the call when the game’s on the line than John Clougherty.”

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Seton Hall had a chance to win the game after Robinson sank both of his free throws, but Daryll Walker missed a bank shot at the buzzer.

“I thought it was going in,” Walker said. “The ball was supposed to go to Greene, but they drifted over to him and I had to shoot it myself.”

Walker’s shot didn’t fall, and Michigan started to celebrate its national championship.

The Pirates gathered in a circle before filing silently off the court and into their locker room.

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“It’s a disappointing loss, but we have to keep our heads on straight and go on with our lives and be proud,” Morton said.

“These were the two greatest teams in the nation playing for the championship and to lose one point in overtime there’s not a whole lot you can say about it.”

Carlesimo said: “Michigan is a great basketball team. They played a little bit better than we did and deserve to be the national champion. It’s very difficult to put it all in perspective because I think in one sense, we were enormously proud of the year we had and the effort we had today.

“But we dug ourselves a hole and I thought our kids climbed out by playing exceptional defense in the second half and the overtime.”

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JOHN MORTON IN THE FINAL

MIN FGM-FGA 3PTM-3PTA FTM-FTA REB AST PF PTS 37 11-26 4-12 9-10 4 3 3 35


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