In the final week of the final regular season for Bryan Antoine and his fellow Ranney seniors, the magic number is twenty.

With two more wins, the Panthers will clinch their fourth straight 20-plus win season, which not-so-coincidentally marks their fourth straight 20-win season ever.

Twenty is the minimum number of points Antoine has averaged during his four-year high school career. He started off his career by averaging 20.7 per game as a freshman and has steadily increased his average each year - to an even 21 as a sophomore and up to 21.4 as a junior last year. Now a senior, Antoine is averaging 23.6 points through his team’s first 20 (there is that number again) games.

Most significantly, however, 20 more points will make Antoine the all-time leading scorer in Shore Conference history. The 6-foot-5 Villanova University commit enters Wednesday’s game against Mater Dei Prep with 2,283 career points – 19 shy of former Croydon Hall star Norm Caldwell’s all-time mark of 2,302.

Fittingly enough, Antoine could be in line to become the Shore’s all-time scoring leader on Wednesday's Senior Night against a team that served as Ranney’s most bitter rival for the past three seasons and whose elementary school (St. Mary’s of Middletown) Antoine played for as a middle-school-aged player.

Ranney senior Bryan Antoine. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

The top of the Shore Conference scoring list is littered with big names – Chris Fleming of Lacey, Jim Dolan of St. Joseph’s (Donovan Catholic, Jermaine Clay of Central Regional, Lakewood’s Jack Ardon – that have lit up scoreboards throughout the Shore Conference’s history. Antoine has fit that mold be being remarkably consistent: prior to a nine-point outing against Gill St. Bernard on Jan. 27, he had never scored fewer than 10 points in a high school game and up until Wednesday night, he also has never scored 40 in a game.

Should Antoine break the all-time scoring record on Wednesday in front of an anticipated full house in Ranney’s cozy gym, it will be the start of one more memorable week in the careers of Antoine and classmates Scottie Lewis, Alex Klatsky, Chris Autino and Ahmadu Sarnor – both for the players and the locals who have followed them for four years (or in Sarnor’s case, the last three years).

Ranney goes Metro

After Wednesday’s tilt against Mater Dei Prep – in which Ranney can clinch its third straight Shore Conference Class B Central championships with a win – the Panthers will play perhaps the toughest opponent during this four-year run on Friday at the Metro Classic at Kean University. At approximately 8 p.m., Ranney will jump it up against Montverde Academy of Florida, a perennial national powerhouse with as many as 10 Division I players on its roster and coached by former St. Patrick coach Kevin Boyle.

It will be the fourth ranked program Ranney has played this season and the highest-ranked of the four at No. 4 in the country, according to USA Today. The Panthers themselves enter the showdown at No. 11 and have already defeated No. 7 South Central of North Carolina, No. 12 Federal Way of Washington State and No. 19 Roselle Catholic, making the Panthers 3-for-3 against nationally-ranked opponents.

Montverde will pose a different type of challenge with its size, length and athleticism to match. The Eagles are led by uncommitted 6-9 wing Precious Achiuwa, who spent his junior season at St. Benedict’s in Newark and has narrowed his college choices to UConn, North Carolina, Kansas, Florida State and Memphis. Achiuwa will also join Antoine and Lewis in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Atlanta on March 27.

Additionally, Montverde boasts 6-9 forward Omar Payne, who will be teammates with Lewis and Klatsky at the University of Florida next season. The Eagle pack in plenty of additional size, highlighted by seven-footer and Florida State commit Balsa Koprivica.

In the back court, junior Moses Moody is down to Arkansas, Florida, Florida State, Auburn and Baylor while junior Cade Cunningham has narrowed his schools to Kansas, LSU, Oklahoma State, Kentucky and Texas A&M. Harlond Beverly is the senior in the group and will decide between Michigan State, Indiana, Baylor, Creighton and DePaul.

Montverde also has some New Jersey influence on its roster in promising freshman guard and Newark native Dariq Whitehead. The 6-4 standout already has offers from Rutgers and Arkansas-Little Rock.

With so much talent on the opposing side of the floor, Ranney is likely in for its toughest matchup on paper but the Panthers have shown they like this sort of challenge. Ranney handed South Central its only loss of the season in the championship game of the John Wall Invitational and did it in South Central’s proverbial back yard in Raleigh. The Panthers then went on to beat Federal Way and Roselle Catholic in games that were effectively over by the middle of the fourth quarter.

Ranney’s losses both came on a Sunday and both were on days in which the Panthers welcomed a new player to the lineup. Their 79-75 loss to MacDuffie (Mass.) was the first game of the season for 6-7 Rumson transfer Phillip Wheeler and came less than 24 hours after a hard-fought win over Bergen Catholic. The Panthers lost again on Jan. 27 to Gill St. Bernard, 62-60, in Sarnor’s first game of the season after the senior sat for the first 16 games of his senior season. It was later found through video review that Gill St. Bernard was awarded an extra basket on the scoreboard and should have only totaled 60 points for the game.

If Ranney can top Mater Dei and pull off a fourth win over a ranked opponent in four tries at Friday’s Metro Classic Main Event, it will mark the fourth straight 20-win season for Ranney under fourth-year coach Tahj Holden and will likely be the most impressive of Ranney’s 92 wins over the past four seasons. If Montverde proves to be too much for the Panthers, win No. 20 will likely come on Saturday, when Ranney takes on Asbury Park at Holden’s alma mater, Red Bank Regional.

More than a Game

Ranney’s game against Asbury Park will be the second leg of a double-header that follows the Ridge Road Rivalry game between Red Bank and Rumson-Fair Haven, which tips off at 1 p.m. A portion of ticket proceeds to Saturday’s double-header will go toward Max Strong, which raises money for Holden’s son, Max, and other children battling forms of pediatric cancer. Max Holden recently had a setback in his fight against neuroblastoma and is set to intensify his treatment again, according to several posts affiliated with Max Strong on social media.

Saturday will be a fitting close to a the final regular-season for Ranney’s Senior Class, which has made an impact on and off the court. Lewis organized a benefit for the homeless in Monmouth County prior to his junior season around the same time Autino set up a summer 3-on-3 tournament to benefit fighting ALS, which claimed the life of his mother, Theresa, in May of 2017. Autino has worked closely with the Joan Dancy and PALS (People with ALS) charity over the past two years.

Now this senior class, with all its impact in the state and in the area, will try to win its second straight Shore Conference Tournament championship and become the first boys team from the Shore to win the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title. Sometime during the pursuit, this senior class could win the 100th game in four years – a feat few teams in the state have accomplished during a four-year stretch, let alone with four freshmen starting during the first year of such a stretch.

A milestone, a high-profile game and an event to benefit those in need away from the court: it is a week that underscores the ambition and the accomplishment of this Ranney senior class and a group of players who wanted to try something different four years ago.

 

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