Cooks Sautees Army with a Career-High 27 Points; NJIT Earns Eighth Win

NJIT GAME HIGHLIGHTS (VIDEO)

NEWARK, N.J. – Sophomore Zach Cooks scored a career-high 27 points as the Highlanders defeated Army West Point, 77-72, in a back-and-forth affair Tuesday at the Wellness and Events Center (WEC).
 
NJIT is now 4-1 at home and has yet to fall in back-to-back games this season. At 8-2, the Highlanders are off to their best start since opening 8-2 in 2000-01 -- when they were a Division-II program.
 
Cooks, who has emerged beautifully in his second season, has now eclipsed the 20-point plateau in five of the last six game – averaging a whopping 22.8 points per game in the span. His previous high was 25 points, set in a losing effort on Nov. 17 against Cornell and tied two weeks later in a defeat on Dec. 1 at UMass Lowell.
 
However, this time, his personal best resulted in a Highlanders' victory.
 
Senior Abdul Lewis complimented Cooks with 14 points and a team-high nine rebounds while junior Shyquan Gibbs chipped in 10 points and a team-high four assists. Cooks, who shot 8-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-7 from deep, also contributed a career-high seven rebounds, three assists and two steals in the victory.
 
All eleven Cadets who played in the game for Army scored. Junior Matt Wilson led the way with 17 points and nine rebounds while senior Jordan Fox and junior Tommy Funk also reached double-digits with 13 points apiece.
 
In a hotly contested contest, there were an amazing 19 lead changes and 15 ties.
 
NJIT finally soared ahead for good when Cooks drained the final of his four triples with 8:35 left in regulation. He followed with a layup 48 seconds later – turning a 58-57 deficit into a 62-58 lead.
 
In fact, his go-ahead trey kick-started a larger, 14-4 run over a span of 7:13 that gave NJIT a game-high, nine-point lead at 71-62 with 1:22 remaining. Cooks produced another layup in the stretch while classmate Shawndale Jones contributed three points – including a free-throw that swelled the lead to its apex.
 
Like a villain in a well-scripted horror movie, Army would not go away.
 
Fox and Wilson provided back-to-back, three-point plays to make it a one-possession contest again. Meanwhile, the Highlanders never recorded another field goal following a Cooks layup with 2:28 left in the game.
 
In all actuality, the victory would have been sealed much earlier in the second half – but the Highlanders struggled to put the game away from the free-throw line. NJIT missed on a pair of one-and-one opportunities along with three other attempts from the stripe in the final 1:22.
 
Ultimately, the Highlanders' two backcourt leaders in Cooks and Gibbs clutched-up by converting NJIT's final four free-throw attempts to seal the win.
 
Brian Kennedy's squad made up for a 59-percent (16-for-27) free-throw percentage by shooting 48-percent (26-for-54) from the floor and 36-percent (9-for-25) from downtown. Meanwhile, the defense held the Black Knight to 42-percent (27-for-65) shooting and just 28-percent (7-for-25) from beyond the arc.
 
NJIT also finished with a 38-36 rebounding advantage.
 
The Highlanders have now won five-consecutive matchups with the Black Knights to take a 5-3 edge in the all-time series. Additionally, they have won eight of their last 10 meetings with Patriot League opponents.
 
NJIT next plays the back-end of a two-game homestand on Saturday, when it hosts to St. Francis Brooklyn (5-3). Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m.
 
The Highlanders and Terries haven't met since NJIT's 92-86 overtime, road victory during the 2015-16 season (Dec. 10). In an all-time series that started in 2010-11, St. Francis Brooklyn leads by a 4-2 mark – but NJIT has won that two meetings after falling in the first four.
 
NJIT has started the season 2-0 against NEC opponents – defeating reigning NEC regular-season champion Wagner, 71-60, on Nov. 20, and NEC tournament champion LIU Brooklyn, 77-70, on Nov. 24. Both wins came on the road.
 
All-time, NJIT is 17-12 all-time against the NEC with four-consecutive wins.

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