RUMSON - Devin Cooper was the leading scorer on the Red Bank Regional boys basketball team last year and had he stayed there for his senior season, he do doubt would have had the chance to call his own number with the game on the line.

Cooper, however, transferred to Rumson-Fair Haven ahead of his final high school season and has played the role of deferential, defensive-minded point guard. On Thursday night, however, with his team on the brink of elimination in the Shore Conference Tournament, Cooper went into scoring mode and delivered when his team needed it most.

Cooper converted a go-ahead three-point play with under 30 seconds left to play and the Bulldogs - seeded third in the Shore Conference Tournament - survived a serious challenge from No. 14 Middletown North, 65-62, to advance to the SCT quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive season while also winning their 17th straight game.

Middletown North junior Rob Higgins buried a jumper to put his team in front, 62-61, with a little under a minute to play before Cooper answered with a drive to the basket that he finished as he absorbed the contact.

After the free throw, Higgins missed a three-pointer and junior Jackson McCarthy knocked down one of two free throws before Lions senior Sky Cherry fired a potential game-tying shot from just inside halfcourt that rimmed out as the final buzzer sounded.

The Bulldogs outscored Middletown North, 35-22, in the second half to overcome a 40-30 halftime deficit. Junior Ian O'Connor scored 16 of his team-high 21 points after halftime to lead the comeback, while sophomore Phillip Wheeler poured in 13 and junior McCarthy chipped in 11 for Rumson.

Senior Elijah McAllister added four points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks for Rumson, which will play No. 11 Point Pleasant Beach in the final quarterfinal game on Sunday in Toms River. Rumson won at Point Beach, 54-50, on Jan. 13.

Higgins scored a game-high 33 points for Middletown North, which hit nine first-half three-pointers to stake its claim to the 10-point halftime lead.


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