MIDDLETOWN - Middletown North sophomore guard Rob Higgins does not get rattled, and that goes for more than just on the basketball court.

On Tuesday, the Shore Conference's leading scorer somehow walked away with barely a scratch when he flipped his Jeep twice in a frightening one-car crash on Harmony Road in Middletown. He said an elderly woman cut in front of him and he swerved, hitting the curb and sending the Jeep sailing into the air.

Two days after being involved in a frightening car crash, Middletown North point guard Rob Higgins scored a game-high 25 points in a Shore Conference Tournament victory. (Photo by Robert Samuels)

The Jeep ended up smashed on its side after bouncing twice, yet Higgins walked away with only a small scrape on his left wrist and some chest soreness from where the airbag deployed.

"Lucky, I know,'' he said, shrugging his shoulders like he had merely fallen off his bike. "Thank God for the roll bar. I just feel blessed. I just move on."

Two days later, he poured in a game-high 25 points in a 66-59 win over Colts Neck on Thursday night to put the Lions (14-8) into the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals for just the third time in history and the first time in five years.

 

"He texted me on Tuesday while we were scouting the Matawan-Colts Neck game that he flipped his car twice,'' Lions head coach Mike Iasparro said. "I call him up and he's like, 'I'm home, I'm fine.' I'm like, 'You're fine?!'

"The cops said, 'We showed up and we thought there was a casualty, and he's standing there like, 'Yeah, I just flipped my car.' Nothing fazes him."

Higgins was driving by himself as a sophomore because he is already 17 after having re-classified into the Class of 2019 before he reached high school. He will be 19 as a senior but will be eligible to play because his birthday comes after school starts, according to Iasparro.

A 2-for-9 start from the field against Colts Neck on Thursday was child's play compared to Tuesday's ordeal. Higgins shook it off to score 17 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, including 12 in the fourth quarter, to combine with junior guard Dave Campbell (22 points) to bring home the win. Campbell pumped in 11 third-quarter points to ignite a 24-8 run that gave the Lions a lead they never relinquished.

"He was struggling a little bit, so I was like alright I'm going to take over for a little until he starts to heat up,'' Campbell said. "(Higgins' presence) helps everyone, and he also distributes the ball very well."

"I just try to attack and share the ball because my teammates can all score and they can all shoot,'' Higgins said. "Once they start knocking down shots, (opponents) have to guard them and it opens up the floor for me."

Higgins leads the Shore Conference in scoring at 24.1 points per game, stamping himself as one of the area's most improved players in his second varsity season. He also is doing it efficiently, as evidenced by his 41-point outburst in a win over rival Middletown South for the most points by any Shore player this season. In setting what is believed to be the single-game school record for points, he went 15-for-20 from the field.

"His skill set has improved a lot,'' Iasparro said. "He got bigger and stronger, and he also grew another inch or two. He's a gym rat and has an unreal work ethic."

Higgins has developed into one of the Shore's best scorers in his second varsity season. (Photo by Robert Samuels)

Higgins is shooting 52 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range, and 80 percent from the foul line this season. He credits offseason work with trainer Eric Myrick on his pull-up jumper, his long-range shooting and his ball-handling for much of his improvement. He has a lethal crossover dribble and hesitation move that allows him to shake taller defenders and get into the paint or set up his stepback jumper.

"We try to be simple with him,'' Iasparro said. "Get him in open space, get him off ball screens in good spacing and get him the ball quickly in transition."

There is one area where Higgins didn't need any off-season improvement.

"I'm always confident,'' he said. "I can miss 10 threes, and I'll take the next 10. I don't let it get in my head."

The unflappability that allows him to brush off the broken glass from a car crash like it's an opposing defender also will come in handy as the stakes get higher in the postseason. The Lions face heavily-favored No. 2 seed Ranney at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Pine Belt Arena in the SCT quarterfinals, and you can rest assured that Higgins will not be unnerved by the challenge.

"He loves those kind of games because he wants to play the best," Iasparro said. "He wants the ball in a tough spot, and he wants to be on the foul line at the end.

"He's cold-blooded."

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