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NCAA Tournament Elite 8 Historical Perspective - Ramblin’ Wreck Knocks Off Minnesota

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Georgia Tech’s “Lethal Weapon 3” combined for 89 points to defeat the Gophers in New Orleans

Minnesota’s Willie Burton against Michigan State
Star Tribune

The 1990 NCAA Tournament wasn’t particularly kind to the Big 10. Cases in point:

  • #1 seed Michigan State loses to Georgia Tech in the Sweet 16, when Kenny Anderson hits a shot after time expired.
  • #2 seed Purdue is knocked off by Texas in the round of 32.
  • #3 seed and defending National Champion Michigan loses to #11 seed Loyola Marrimount in the round of 32.
  • #5 seed Illinois falls victim to #12 seed Dayton in the first round.
  • #8 seed Indiana bows out to #9 seed California in the first round.
  • #8 seed Ohio State is knocked off by eventual National Champion UNLV in the round of 32.

The lone exception was Clem Haskins’ Minnesota Golden Gophers. This team, a somewhat unspectacular 20-8 and 11-7 in conference play advanced all of the way to the Southeast (now South) Regional Finals.

Minnesota did get some quality wins for 1989-90; primarily home victories against #4 Illinois, #10 Purdue, and a 108-89 blowout of #12 Indiana. The only non-conference loss was against Cincinnati in the opener. This netted the Gophers the #6 seed in the Southeast Region. After dispatching Texas El-Paso and Northern Iowa, Minnesota upset #2 seed Syracuse in the Sweet 16. This should have resulted in game 3 against #1 seed Michigan State; however, the after-the-clock-expired shot by Kenny Anderson had Georgia Tech advance to the Elite 8 in the Louisiana Superdome.

Georgia Tech’s “Lethal Weapon 3” (l to r) Dennis Scott, Kenny Anderson, and Brian Oliver
Savannah Now

For 1989-90 Bobby Cremins’ Yellow Jackets were literally a 3-man show. Forward Dennis Scott and guards Kenny Anderson and Brian Oliver - known as “Lethal Weapon 3” - all averaged more than 20 points and 37 minutes per game. They led Georgia Tech to the 1990 ACC Tournament despite an 8-6 conference record (21-6 overall prior to the ACC Tournament). The Yellow Jackets got to the Elite by coming back from being 19 points down to an LSU team featuring Shaquille O’Neal, and a controversial upset of #1 seed Michigan State with Kenny Anderson hitting the game-winning shot after time expired.

As the game got underway Minnesota used a balanced attack to take an early lead. Behind Willie Burton the Gophers jumped out to a 42-30 first half lead; maintaining a 49-47 halftime advantage. Minnesota continued lo lead 58-53 in the second half. However, Georgia Tech started hitting from 3-point range. Led by Dennis Scott the Jackets took the lead and held on - despite some missed free throws in crunch time - to pull off a 93-91 victory. One thing that hurt Minnesota was free throw shooting: the Gophers only went 5-for-11 from the charity stripe.

For Georgia Tech “Lethal Weapon 3” scored 89 of their 93 points: 40 for Dennis Scott, 30 for Kenny Anderson, and 19 for Brian Oliver. These 3 attempted 52 of the 56 shots the Yellow Jackets took from the field.

The 1990 Elite 8 would represent the apex of Clem Haskins’ tenure in Minneapolis. Several years later Haskins would be forced out amid academic scandal; vacating a 1997 Final 4 appearance. The 1989-90 team though nearly got to the Final Four, losing by 2 points to a team they shouldn’t have been playing in the first place.