The ghosts don’t hide in the shadows at Seton Hall. Bryce Aiken used to walk by ’em, maybe make eye contact with. They’d look back at him. John Morton. Andrew Gaze. Daryll Walker. That 1989 team photo is unavoidable. “A big one, plastered right on the wall,” he says. “You can’t walk through our locker room without seeing that every single day.”
About a year ago, Aiken, a child of the mid-90s, finally stopped and asked someone, why? Why that team? Why those dudes? Why such a display of reverence?
He was told a story. You might know it.
There were eight seconds remaining in the Kingdome. Michigan’s Rumeal Robinson sliced through a thicket of Seton Hall defenders. A piercing blow from referee John Clougherty’s whistle. A foul — a phantom foul, some will forever say. It’s been talked about in South Orange for over 30 years. Some claim the call, a reach-in on Gerald Green as Robinson went to pass the ball, was anticipatory. Others say the call was simply missed. Others, still, say the NCAA didn’t want little ol’ Seton Hall winning a national title and wanted it instead to go to that big football school in Ann Arbor. Regardless, Robinson, not even a 65 percent foul shooter, went to the line and hit two of the most cold-blooded foul shots in NCAA Tournament history. Three seconds later, the horn blared and an 80-79 overtime final gave Michigan the 1989 national championship. Seton Hall, those Pirates in a picture now stuck in time, were college basketball’s national runner-ups.
“I couldn’t believe hearing all that,” Aiken says. “Couldn’t believe they were that close.”
He stresses it. … “That close!”
Aiken is sitting on the far baseline at Crisler Center, near the visiting locker room. No, he’s not about to suggest that what happened here tonight has anything to do with what came 32 years before. He’s not going to spit some nonsense about, “We did it for them!” No, no. Aiken respects history, of course and he’s not blind to the poetry of it all, but what happened Tuesday is about now, not then.
This was a stirring 67-65 takedown of a Michigan team that entered the night with a No. 4 national ranking and some very credible Final Four aspirations. This was a statement by a previously unranked Seton Hall team that just put the Big East and the rest of college basketball on notice. This was the program’s first-ever road win against a top-five non-conference opponent.
“This is what we came here for,” Aiken says. “We needed this.”
The historical context makes for a tidy tale, but Tuesday’s win at Michigan is worth more for this Seton Hall team than some three-decades-old grudge.
The Pirates came to Ann Arbor on a tight turnaround. They beat Yale on Sunday, traveled on Monday, went through a midday shootaround at Crisler on Tuesday, and tipped off at 9 p.m. that night. The narrow prep window limited coach Kevin Willard’s options of what to tackle in the game plan, so he went all-in on one side of the ball.