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Big East Flashback: Oliver Taylor’s heroics lead Seton Hall to 1991 conference title

Chris Mullin, Patrick Ewing, Pearl Washington, Alonzo Mourning and….Oliver Taylor? They all have one thing in common. They are all Big East tournament Most Valuable Players. Here is how Taylor put his name in lights at MSG.

The 1989-90 Seton Hall Pirates had a season to forget as they finished 12-16 with a 5-11 conference record. They would go on to lose to Connecticut in the first round Big East Tournament, which ended their season.

It was certainly a letdown for Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo, who had taken the previous team to the NCAA Tournament championship game. The coach was now in some hot water as The Hall entered the 1990-91 campaign with the program hoping for a turnaround. Seton Hall would do just that led by Terry Dehere who average 19.8 points per game that season. Anthony Avent had a solid season too as he averaged 17.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. Those two men led the Pirates to a 19-8 (9-7) regular season record, which was good enough for a four seed in the Big East Tournament.

For Oliver Taylor, the 1990-91 season began with a shadow of doubt cloaked over him. Many suspected that the senior might lose his starting job due to the fact that Coach Carlesimo had recruited a guard out of Trenton, NJ named Bryan Caver. However, Taylor kept that starting role and made a huge impact on the team by passing the ball instead of scoring as he led The Hall with 3.4 assists per game to go along with about 11 points a night.

Taylor was, in a way, the third wheel on a team that had the likes of Dehere and Avent who were not only the focal points on this team, but went down as two of the greatest players in Seton Hall basketball history. That season, Taylor had only led the Pirates in scoring three times and only had two more assists than turnovers during the entire campaign. When the Big East tournament got under way, not many expected what would happen next.

Seton Hall began their tournament with a bye and would face off against fifth-seeded Pittsburgh on March 8. The Pirates had split the season series with the Panthers, but Pitt had the 69-68 lead with 11 seconds left in this quarterfinal matchup. Carlesimo put a play together that had Taylor as the third option, but this time the senior called his own number. Taylor saw an opening in the Panther defense as he drove up the court and to the basket. Despite the several defenders in the lane, Taylor was able to make the layup as time expired to win the game 70-69. A dramatic moment that sent the crowd into a frenzy, but also one that we had seen from "unlikely heroes" before. What could Taylor possibly do for an encore?

The Pirates moved on to the semifinals and faced off with Villanova, a team that The Hall had swept during the regular season. Coach Rollie Massimino’s squad was certainly looking for revenge and, of course, a trip the conference title game. The eighth-seeded Wildcats battled Seton Hall down to the wire and with score tied at 72 in the final seconds the decision was easier this time for Carlesimo. Taylor had hit 10 of his 13 shots that game. Seton Hall’s leading scorer Dehere had gone just 1-11 from the field and was not the hot shooter on this night. As the seconds ticked down, the ball was in Taylor’s hands again. This time he pulled up and knocked down a jumper with 1.7 seconds to play. Seton Hall would go on to win it 74-72, which put them in the conference tournament final.

Can you imagine it? A player that not only played second fiddle, but third fiddle on a solid team putting the squad on his back and carrying them to finals of the Big East tournament with two great plays.

Seton Hall would play Georgetown in the final who had split with the Pirates during the regular season, but always seemed to bring something to the table when the lights shined the brightest at Madison Square Garden. Despite the Hoyas being a six-seed, this team had Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning. However, Georgetown found themselves in a position where they did not know if they were going to make the tournament or in terms that today’s fans could understand, they were "on the bubble."

In the title game, the Hoyas came out aggressively and were doing everything they could to get under the skin of the Pirates. If a Seton Hall player tried to lay the ball up, Mourning would be there to meet that player and then take him to the ground. On one occasion, Mourning brought Dehere down to the floor hard and then kicked him while the two were standing in front of the Pirate student section. The students were outraged, but The Hall were able to stay calm despite having targets on their backs throughout this physical game.

Seton Hall jumped out to a 21-10 lead in the game and even though the Pirates allowed Georgetown to cut the deficit to just one point at 32-31, The Hall took the lead 33-32 on a basket by Avent. They would not trail again. Taylor had 15 points and the Pirates won 74-62. For the first time in program history, the Seton Hall Pirates had won the Big East tournament championship and Taylor was named the tournament MVP for his fantastic performances throughout the three games.

Taylor heard chants of "MVP!" at The Garden during the title game win against the Hoyas and certainly deserved it. This title would be the first of two that The Hall would win over a three year span.

Hoya coach John Thompson, according to philly.com, said of that Seton Hall team after the game that they were, "going to be hell to play in the NCAA."

Seton Hall certainly made a run in the dance as they went into the NCAA Tournament that season as a three seed. In the first round, they took care of 14-seed Pepperdine 71-51. Next up, The Hall won 81-69 over Creighton to advance to the Sweet 16. In a hotly contested game against Arizona, the Pirates found a way to win it 81-77. Finally, Seton Hall were beaten after winning seven games in a row. UNLV pulled away and defeated the Pirates 77-65 to move on to the Final Four.

Last year Taylor talked with Steve Politi of NJ Advanced Media and said of his achievement, "No one will ever take away those three days," he said. "I look at that MVP trophy as my Heisman."

After Taylor left Seton Hall following his two seasons in South Orange and he tried out for the Chicago Bulls. Taylor would then play professionally in Puerto Rico and Israel and is now a deputy sheriff in Rockdale County, Ga. It has been 24 years since Taylor’s magical run at The Garden and just like the fans who witnessed it, the now sheriff will never forget those incredible games.

These kinds of moments are what college basketball is all about. A man, who was deemed as a third option, steps up and becomes a legend on the biggest stage in basketball. Now his name sits with other Big East legends forever. For Seton Hall, he was their savior in 1991.