MIDDLETOWN - It took a big week from the Middletown North boys basketball team just to make the Shore Conference Tournament and once the Lions were in the field as the No. 14 seed, playing at home Tuesday against No. 19 Howell, they were not going to let the opportunity pass by in just one game.

The Lions snapped out of a mid-second-half funk and ran away with a 63-53 win over the Rebels Tuesday to earn a trip to face No. 3 Rumson-Fair Haven in Thursday night's round of 16.

Junior Rob Higgins led Middletown North with a game-high 29 points, including the go-ahead three-point play on a strong baseline drive midway through the fourth quarter. Howell led the Lions, 47-42, with six minutes to go before Middletown North countered with a 16-1 run and 21-6 total to close out the win.

Middletown North junior Rob Higgins. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Middletown North junior Rob Higgins. (Photo by Matt Manley)

The 29 points was just an average game for the Shore Conference's leading scorer -who is averaging exactly 29 per night - but he scored 15 points in the fourth quarter and had a hand in the nine consecutive points the Lions scored to turn the 47-42 deficit into a 51-47 lead. First, Higgins, hit cutting senior Sky Cherry for a layup to slice the lead to three, then spun past a defender to hit a shot off the glass and make it a one-point game.

He then blew by his man along the baseline, absorbed some hard contact with Howell senior Brandon Wilson, and converted the layup to put Middletown North back on top, 49-47, after the free throw. Higgins then got the basket for a layup to cap the 9-0 burst.

Cherry added 11 points and nine rebounds for Middletown North while senior Dave Campbell pitched in 10 for the Lions, who needed to beat both Manasquan and Wall last week just to qualify for the tournament. They will now take on a Rumson team that has won 16 straight games, with its last loss coming against St. Peter's Prep on Dec. 29.

Senior Nasiem Brantley led Howell with 18 points and 13 rebounds off the bench, while senior Brandon Wilson chipped in 14 points in a losing cause.


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