JACKSON -- The last time the Ranney boys basketball team played Trenton Catholic in an NJSIAA Tournament game, the Iron Mikes won by a 64-point margin back in 2014.

The Panthers, however, are what feels like a lifetime away from those days and if anything can measure how far the program has come in those last four years, it was the result when the two teams met again Tuesday at Jackson Liberty with the South Jersey Non-Public B championship on the line.

Ranney - the No. 2 seed in the bracket - led wire-to-wire Tuesday in dropping No. 5 Trenton Catholic, 71-56, to capture the program's first ever sectional championship 10 days after winning its first ever Shore Conference Tournament title.

The score might not have read, 91-27, like it did when Trenton Catholic manhandled Ranney in the 2014 opening round, but it was another dominant performance on Ranney's climb toward the top of the rankings in N.J. and it came against a perennial contender in a section with a Tournament of Champions title on its resume within the last decade.

"I think we've done so well because we haven't gotten too confident," junior Scottie Lewis said. "We know the goal, we all share the same goal and we're in the gym every single day - practicing and pushing each other. We're playing for more than just ourselves and we realize it. That's what is pushing us the most."

Junior Bryan Antoine turned in his second straight 30-point outing, hitting 30 points on the nose while picking up seven rebounds, four assists and three steals for good measure. Antoine unleashed an assault on the paint, going 14-for-20 from the field with all 14 field goals going in the paint or in the mid-range area.

"Our gameplan was to attack," Ranney coach Tahj Holden said. "We knew they (Trenton Catholic) didn't really have any shot-blockers. (Rodrique) Massenat is still not 100 percent with his knee and when he is healthy, he brings a different dimension. We knew if we could get into the lane, we could probably finish because there weren't too many athletic shot-blockers and that's what Bryan did to get himself going. Once he gets going, he's difficult to stop."

Antoine scored 16 of Ranney's 27 points in the first half as the Panthers took a 27-19 advantage into the locker room. The Ranney offense would pick up in the second half, with Lewis scoring 16 of his 20 points after the break and Antoine pouring in 14 more.

"We just let the game come to us," Lewis said. "They (Trenton Catholic) made a lot of mental mistakes as far as their defense went. They opened up a lot of gaps that Bryan was taking advantage of in the first half. Coach Tahj pointed that out to us at halftime and we definitely exploited those."

Lewis also added 10 points and five assists while shooting 8-for-12 from the field - another strong all-around effort for the 6-5 swingman.

Ranney's supporting cast also stepped up when needed, with junior Ahmadu Sarnor adding five points, six rebounds, four assists and a pair of charges taken, while junior Alex Klatsky pitched in six points on a pair of three-pointers to go with four rebounds and three assists.

Senior center Savior Akuwovo contributed eight points, seven rebounds and a pair of blocks, while senior Chris Autino gave the team a lift off the bench with a basket and a pair of blocks on the same possession during Ranney's 19-7 third-quarter run.

While the entire team came to play on Tuesday, it was Antoine and Lewis who showed what has separated Ranney from the rest of the field to this point. The duo combined to shoot a eye-popping 22-for-32 (68.7 percent) from the field while also combining for nine assists and five steals.

The two highly-sought-after recruits also traded alley-oops in the second half, with Lewis setting up Antoine for a two-handed slam from well beyond the three-point line and Antoine firing a perfect lob from 35 feet away from the basket to set Lewis up for the throw-down.

"Coach has been telling us since the beginning of the year that there is no one who can guard us," Antoine said. "Me and Scottie and Ahmadu are pretty fast, Alex is pretty fast too, so we just wanted to try to get out in transition and get easy baskets, stuff like that."

The Panthers built the lead to as much as 25 in the fourth quarter before the Iron Mikes caught fire and closed the game with a 30-point quarter. By then, however, the Ranney defense had already dug in and held Trenton Catholic to 26 points over the first three quarters and gave the Panthers a commanding 46-26 lead heading to the fourth.

Trenton Catholic shot only 1-for-10 from three-point range during its 19-point first half and was 2-for-18 through three quarters before going 6-for-9 in the third quarter to finish up a respectable 8-for-27.

Junior guard Khalif Battle led the Iron Mikes with 18 points and sophomore Eddie Evans went 4-for-5 from three-point range in the fourth quarter on the way to a 14-point game.

"We were really good defensively against Khalif Battle, which was a big part of our gameplan," Holden said. "I would have liked to close it out a little stronger, but I think we did a really good job for 28 to 30 minutes. Overall, I'm happy we won. I tell my guys all the time, there is no bad shot that goes in and there is no ugly game if you win. A win is a win at this time of the year and 'survive-and-advance' is the name of the game."

Tuesday was another double-digit win over a quality program for Ranney in a tournament setting. In eight games between the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Tournaments, the Panthers have yet to win a game by fewer than 11 points and have won the eight games by an average margin of a little more than 24 points.

Keeping its playoff run and season alive will be decidedly tougher for Ranney when the Panthers next take the floor for the Non-Public B championship game on Saturday at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena in Toms River. Ranney will face either Roselle Catholic or Gill St. Bernard - the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the latest NJ.com state top 20 - for the title, with the two powerhouses playing on Thursday night at Rutgers to determine who will oppose Ranney.

Roselle Catholic already scored a resounding 75-50 win over Ranney on Jan. 31 at Brookdale Community College, but that was when the Panthers were without both Lewis and Klatsky. Lewis was recovering from an ankle injury, while Klatsky was still undergoing concussion protocol.

"I remember the game, but it was something we all just kind of brushed off," Lewis said. "We weren't at full force and we're a dangerous team when we're at full force. We'll need every single player from our starting five to our sixth man all the way down to our 11th and 12th man as far as energy goes."

As remarkable as Ranney's transformation from a team that could not compete in the first round of the NJSIAA Tournament to a team that has gone virtually unmatched in every single one of its postseason games, the Panthers have not met their internal expectations to this point. With a core of juniors, plus Akuwovo as the lone senior, the Ranney players have their sights set on winning the Tournament of Champions before they graduate.

Given that three more wins will likely accomplish that goal, there is no sense in waiting until next year, according to the Panthers players.

"This is history in the making, but it's only 50 percent of what we want to do," Lewis said of the sectional championship. "We've got a state championship to win on Saturday and the TOC after that. We want to finish our goal, 100 percent."

 

Box Score

Ranney 71, Trenton Catholic 56

1 2 3 4 F
Trenton Catholic (20-10) 9 10 7 30 56
Ranney (28-4) 14 13 19 25 71

Trenton Catholic (56): Latrell Reid 2 0-1 4, Quashawn Lane 5 0-0 10, Rodrique Massenat 1 0-0 2, Eddie Evans 4 2-2 14, Khalif Battle 7 2-3 18, Donovan Ryland 2 0-0 6, Naji Wright 1 0-0 2. Totals: 22 4-6 56

Three-pointers: Evans 4, Battle 2, Ryland 2

Ranney (71): Ahmadu Sarnor 2 0-0 5, Bryan Antoine 14 2-2 30, Alex Klatsky 2 0-0 6, Savior Akuwovo 3 2-4 8, Scottie Lewis 8 2-2 20, Chris Autino 1 0-0 2. Totals: 30 6-8 71

Three-pointers: Sarnor, Klatsky 2, Lewis 2