MIDDLETOWN - Middletown North boys basketball coach Mike Iasparro gives most of his players the green light when it comes to shooting three-pointers, but junior Chris Kenny is not one of those players.

With only a couple of seconds left on the clock and his team's season on the line Monday against Colts Neck in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV first round, Kenny had no choice but to run the red light.

The 6-3 junior forward launched a three-pointer as the final seconds ticked away and the ball spun around the rim and dropped in as time expired to give the Lions -the No. 7 team in the Central Group IV bracket - a thrilling 54-53 win over the No. 10 Cougars.

"I knew there was four second left, but I didn't know what I wanted to do with (the ball)," Kenny said. "I just wanted to win the game because I knew we had the (Midd. North) Nation at the game waiting for us, and I hit the shot."

"He doesn't have the green light for us during the course of a normal game," Iasparro said. "But he is a good high school basketball player and he can make a three. We like him around the basket - making layups, putbacks, screening-and-rolling, and posting. That's where he's at his best.

"But he made a big play in a big spot. He's a great kid and he's done a great job playing his role for us this year."

The game-winner was the first three-pointer that Kenny has made this season and was Kenny's third shot attempt of the final possession, which lasted more than 40 seconds. He missed a three-pointer from the right corner but tracked down his own miss near the scorer's table and called the first of four timeouts by the two teams on that final possession - three of which were taken by Middletown North.

Junior Dave Campbell then missed a three-pointer and Colts Neck senior Brendan Clarke blocked Kenny's putback attempt out of bounds underneath the basket with 4.4 seconds left. After the teams traded timeouts, sophomore Rob Higgins passed the ball in to Kenny on the left wing.

"I was supposed to set a screen for Dave, who was supposed to set a screen for (Higgins) so I thought we'd get the two (points) there," Kenny said. "The play kind of got out of control and I ended up with the ball and I shot it and made it. It's crazy."

The junior looked to get it back to Higgins, but with the Shore's leading scorer marked tightly, Kenny only had time to fire up a three that danced around the rim before dropping.

"I have the same confidence in every shot," Kenny said. "I think it's going to go in every time and that time it did."

The Colts Neck players stood on the court in disbelief, some of them holding up two fingers to signal that they thought Kenny's foot was over the three-point line, which would have meant the game would go into overtime. The officials, however, signaled for a three-pointer and darted off the floor as the Middletown North student section emptied on to the floor to celebrate.

Multiple video angles showed Kenny's feet to be clearly behind the three-point line when he released the ball.

Colts Neck took the lead when junior Ben Bosland found classmate Rob Hill for the go-ahead layup with 45 seconds left. The basket answered a 10-2 Middletown North run that turned a 49-41 Colts Neck lead into a 51-51 tie.

"We just stayed together, stayed bonded as a team," Higgins said. "We kept fighting back."

Kenny began the Middletown North run with a pair of free throws while Campbell scored twice on layups off of his own steals. Senior Marc Cerbo also hit a pair of free throws and Higgins tied the game with 1:11 left by making two of three foul shots after he was fouled on a three-point attempt.

Higgins also stepped in to take a crucial charge on Colts Neck junior Dan Gaines on the defensive possession prior to his game-tying free throws. After picking up his third foul in the middle of the second quarter and shooting 1-for-6 from the field in the first half, Higgins scored 17 of his game-high 20 points in the second half to pace the Lions.

The four other starters other than Higgins each scored between seven and nine points, with Campbell and junior Sky Cherry each joining Kenny with nine and Cerbo pouring in seven.

Clarke led Colts Neck with 18 points, including eight in the fourth quarter. Gaines added 14 and Bosland chipped in 11 points, six rebounds and three assists for the Cougars.

Colts Neck was on the opposite end of a buzzer-beater Monday after winning last year's Central Jersey Group IV championship game against Freehold Township on a shot by Clarke as time expired. Clarke again came up big in the clutch by going 3-for-4 from the floor and 2-for-2 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.

The tournament win over Colts Neck is the second in the last 12 days for Middletown North. The Lions beat the Cougars in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16, 66-59, which was also featured Middletown North as the No. 7 seed vs. No. 10 Colts Neck in Middletown.

"It's hard to beat a team twice in a row," Higgins said. "We played good tonight."

Middletown North will travel to play No. 2 seed Hunterdon Central, which nipped No. 15 Hillsborough, 61-57, on Monday.

"I love the fact that we're going to get out of the Shore Conference and play a different team," Iasparro said. "I think the teams around here know a lot about us and how we like to play, so it's easier for a Shore Conference team to gameplan for us. So I'm excited to play a team that's a very good team and a very big team. But I like the match-up and I feel really good about our team."

 

Box Score

Middletown North 54, Colts Neck 53

1 2 3 4 F
Colts Neck (15-9) 12 10 17 14 53
Middletown North (16-10) 13 9 11 21 54

Colts Neck (53): Ben Bosland 5 0-0 11, Dan Gaines 5 3-4 14, Rob Hill 3 0-0 6, Brendan Clarke 8 2-4 18, Matt Volk 0 0-0 0, Sabour Quddus 2 0-0 4, Zach Albom 0 0-0 0, Ron Anderson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 5-8 53

Three-pointers: Bosland, Gaines

Middletown North (54): Rob Higgins 6 6-7 20, Marc Cerbo 2 1-1 7, Chris Kenny 3 2-2 9, Sky Cherry 4 1-2 9, Dave Campbell 4 1-2 9, Isaiah McDowell 0 0-0 0, John Tomassetti 0 0-0 0, Matt Pinckney 0 0-0 0. Totals: 19 12-15 54

Three-pointers: Higgins 2, Cerbo, Kenny

 

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