MIDDLETOWN - Rumson-Fair Haven senior Ian O'Connor has been one of the Shore's most dominant players this season and, along with senior teammate Jackson McCarthy, has carried the Bulldogs on the offensive end.

Ironically enough, on a day in which O'Connor reached a career milestone, a freshman stole the headlines from his senior teammate.

Freshman Geoff Schroeder scored a career-high 30 points and McCarthy scored the tying basket and winning free throw in overtime to left Rumson - the No. 4 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - won a nip-and-tuck affair with Middletown North, 64-63, in overtime.

O'Connor also scored his 1,000th career point on a three-pointer in the third quarter and finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds. As a four-year varsity player on one of the Shore's winningest programs of the last four years, O'Connor was happy his individual accomplishment was overshadowed by his freshman teammate and his team's clutch performance in the fourth.

Rumson-Fair Haven freshman Geoff Schroeder. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Rumson-Fair Haven freshman Geoff Schroeder. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

"It's an honor to be able to reach 1,000 points and do it at a program I love," O'Connor said. "Coach Shempy has been like a father to me and a lot of the guys, so it means a lot.

"I'm just glad we could get this win. I didn't have my greatest shooting game but Schroeder stepped up huge for us and Jackson came through at the end. You're not going to be hitting shots every time out so you need to find other ways to win and get other guys to score. Schroeder is a really hard-worker in practice and it's showing in the games for us lately, especially today."

McCarthy finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds and six assists despite suffering a left-ankle injury in the first quarter that kept him out for three minutes. According to McCarthy, the on-site trainer told him it was likely a sprain and left his fate for that game up to the senior.

"The trainer said, 'You know better than me how much pain you can take,'" McCarthy said. "Once I heard that, I knew I had to get back on the court."

The decision by McCarthy to play indeed was the difference between winning and losing for Rumson on Saturday. The 6-5 senior scored the last five points of the game , including one last controversial free throw to seal it.

McCarthy scored as he was fouled with 14.7 seconds left to tie the game at 63-63 and after a miss on the other end, McCarthy was fouled going to the ground with 1.3 seconds left. Junior Quentin Soler missed the shot and in going for the rebound, fell into McCarthy as he was trying to dribble out from under Rumson's own basket.

The senior hit the first free throw before missing the second and a desperation heave by Lions senior Rob Higgins ended the game, with Higgins and the rest of the Middletown North players unhappy with the foul call 80-plus feet away from their basket with one second left.

The Lions appeared poised to hand Rumson its second loss of the season after they scored the first six points in the overtime period, including two on technical foul shots by Higgins after McCarthy called a timeout when Rumson no longer had any. The play was reminiscent of the 2016 Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals, when Bulldogs all-time leading scorer Brendan Barry did the same late in a triple-overtime loss to Manasquan at Brookdale.

"That was my freshman year and that was one of the first big games where I played big minutes," O'Connor recalled. "I remember seeing the timeout and losing that game. That was a pretty sad locker room after the game so that definitely crossed my mind when it happened again."

Rumson-Fair Haven senior Ian O'Connor. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Rumson-Fair Haven senior Ian O'Connor. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

With his team down, 62-56, Schroeder kicked off the comeback with a three-pointer to slice the deficit in half before McCarthy did the rest.

"We knew the game wasn't over," McCarthy said. "We just had to keep battling, keep pressuring on defense, try to get to the rim. We felt like going in we could beat them off the dribble so in that situation, we really wanted to take the ball to the basket."

Schroeder's 30 points are the most by a freshman at the Shore this season. He scored 24 points after halftime, helping the Bulldogs overcome a 29-18 deficit at the break.

"We knew Jackson and Ian would be the go-to guys coming into the season," Schroeder said. "We knew, for the rest of the guys, we had a role to play. If we just trusted them, based our offense and defense around them, we would all play our parts well and eventually we would contribute to the scoring too."

Rumson ripped off a 14-0 run over the final two-plus minutes of the third and the first two of the fourth to turn an 11-point deficit into a 43-40 lead, with Schroeder scored seven of those points. The freshman drove for the tying layup on the first possession of the quarter and O'Connor drained a go-ahead three that gave Rumson its first lead since midway through the first quarter.

Schroeder later converted a three-point play that stretched the Bulldogs lead to 52-48 with 1:26 left and hit both ends of a 1-and-1 with 21 seconds to go. Middletown North, however, fought back, with senior Rob Higgins drawing a foul on a three-point attempt and hitting all three foul shots with 13.9 seconds left.

O'Connor then missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to give the Lions a chance to tie the game. Higgins got a clean look for three that missed but junior Anthony Soto converted the putback with 2.3 seconds left to pull Middletown North even. Rumson could not get a shot off on the ensuing inbound play, sending the game to overtime.

Higgins led Middletown North with 26 points and the Lions rallied from a five-point deficit in the final 15 seconds of the fourth quarter. Higgins hit three free throws with 13.9 seconds left and after O'Connor missed the front end of a 1-and-1, junior Anthony Soto scored on a putback with 2.3 seconds left to tie the game at 56-56.

Junior Ryan Rozynski added 14 points for Middletown North and sophomore Vincent Pennino poured in 10 in the loss. Middletown North also lost junior and second-leading scorer Matt Spencer to an ankle injury in the first quarter and Spencer did not return.

After Saturday's performance, Higgins stands at 1,847 points for his career. In his last game, he passed Barry for 13th on the Shore Conference's all-time career scoring list and if he can put up anything close to his 27.4-point average in Middletown North's next game Tuesday against Red Bank, he will pass both Robbie Hall and Mike Gesicki - who just finished his rookie season with the Miami Dolphins - of Southern Regional to move to 11th on the list.

Saturday, however, was O'Connor's day to reach a milestone and Schroeder's turn to author a breakout performance that sets him in motion toward some future milestones of his own.

"This game game definitely took a lot of twists and turns," Schroeder said. "I wasn't hitting my shot early in the game and the team as a whole was struggling to make shots. I just looked at my teammates and my coaches and they told me to keep shooting. They trusted me so I just put my faith in myself and in my teammates and coaches and I kept shooting it until they finally started to go in."


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