Busting Brackets

What if a foul wasn't called in the final seconds of the 1989 NCAA Championship Game?

With Seton Hall leading by one with seconds remaining in overtime, a controversial foul call gave Michigan its first national championship in program history.
NCAA National Championship - Michigan Wolverines v Seton Hall Pirates
NCAA National Championship - Michigan Wolverines v Seton Hall Pirates / Focus On Sport/GettyImages

As we eagerly wait for another college basketball season to start, it's time to dig into the archives for some of the sports most unique moments.

One of those moments occurred during the 1989 NCAA Tournament, which featured one of the most unexpected title game matchups in history. The contest did feature No. 3 seeds Michigan and Seton Hall, but each team had completely exceeded expectations.


Michigan was ranked in the top-15 throughout the entire season and finished with a 24-7 record and 12-6 in Big Ten play. A blowout home loss to Illinois on Senior Day was disappointing, but the Wolverines still had plenty to play for as the calendar turned to March. But the rest of the year was far from normal.

Just days before the tournament was set to begin, ninth-year head coach Bill Frieder announced that he would leave for Arizona State following the season. However, athletic director and legendary football coach Bo Schembechler immediately fired Frieder and promoted assistant coach Steve Fisher to interim head coach. At the press conference, Schembechler famously uttered - "A Michigan man will coach a Michigan team. "

Despite the coaching change, Fisher and senior forward Glen Rice led the Wolverines all the way to the Final Four, including a 102-65 thrashing of Virginia in the Elite Eight. In the Final Four, Michigan faced an Illinois team that had easily won both regular season meetings by double digits and were nicknamed the "Flying Illini" due to their extreme athleticism and dunking ability.

The game was close throughout and Michigan had the ball late with a chance to win the game. Forward Terry Mills missed an open triple, but alert forward Sean Higgins grabbed the offensive rebound on the weak side and scored a putback with only one second remaining. Illinois last-second heave fell short, and the Wolverines were only one win away from an improbable championship.

Seton Hall

Though Seton Hall didn't experience a sudden coaching change like their eventual title game opponents, by no means were they expected to reach the championship game.

PJ Carlisemo returned to the sidelines for his seventh season in South Orange, and looked to build off a spectacular 1987-88 season that saw his Pirates reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. They began the season ranked unranked, but won their first 13 games to launch themselves into the top-10.

Seton Hall finished the regular season with a 25-5 overall record and second in the Big East behind No. 2 Georgetown. After losing in the second round of the Big East Tournament, the Pirates were awarded a No. 3 seed in the West Region. Despite playing in a region that featured stalwarts Indiana, UNLV, and Arizona, Seton Hall advanced to their first ever Final Four in program history with an 84-61 upset win over UNLV.

In the Final Four, the Pirates faced a nearly insurmountable 18 point lead early in the game, but eventually cut the deficit to three by halftime and road the momentum all the way to a 95-78 victory over the heavily favored Blue Devils.

Now that the matchup was finally set, it was time to see which team could win its first ever national championship.

The game

It was an all-out battle right from the opening tip. Rice and John Morton each carried their teams with 31 and 35 points, respectively. Michigan led by five at halftime and three late in the second-half, but Morton knocked down a clutch three from the top of the key to tie the game. Rice missed an open jumper on the elbow that would have won the national championship, but the ball spun off the rim as the buzzer sounded, sending the game to overtime.

The extra session mirrored the game's first 40 minutes to a tee, only it was Seton Hall that had a three-point advantage late. Michigan couldn't seem to cut into the lead, but missed free-throws from the Pirates proved costly down the stretch.

With under a minute to play, Seton Hall point guard Gerald Greene missed the front end of a one and one that could have made it a two-score game. Michigan responded with a bucket on the other end, and stood its ground on defense to get one final chance with 10 seconds to go.

The call

Rice grabbed the defensive rebound on the baseline and quickly passed the ball to point guard Rumeal Robinson. Robinson weaved his way through the Pirate defenders and appeared to be looking to pass out to the wing when suddenly a whistle blew.

Once the whistle blew, Seton Hall players and coaches shared confused looks amongst each other as if to say - "Who touched him?" A glance at the replay revealed that Greene (who was called for the foul) didn't make any contact with Robinson. But, official John Clougherty saw otherwise.

Despite the chaos in the Kingdome, Robinson still had to knock down a pair of free-throws to give his team the lead. He nailed the front-end of the one and one, and buried the second to give the Wolverines an 80-79 edge.

Keep in mind, Robinson was only a 64 percent foul shooter and had missed several crucial free-throws in other games. In later interviews, Carlesimo said "I thought there was no way that he would make two."

Seton Hall's final heave fell short, and Michigan had captured its first national championship.

What if no foul was called?

Even though the game is 35 years old, many sportswriters and fans continue to weigh in on the final call to this day. It's arguably one of the most underrated what if moments in sports history.

One of the cardinal unwritten rules in any sport is to let the players decide the game. In this case, it would have been interesting to see a real final shot to decide the game. Robinson was in transition, but it looked like he was about to pass back out to the wing for an open jumper. Even if that potential game-winning shot doesn't drop, it would have been one of the most exciting moments in NCAA Tournament history.

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Michigan may have still won the game, but Seton Hall fans are convinced that they were robbed of a title.

You be the judge. Was it a foul or not?