Boys Basketball – Lewis, Ranney Seize Opportunity, Advance to SCT Final
TOMS RIVER - A lot of athletes would prefer to put their failures behind them and move on with their lives and their craft.
Ranney junior Scottie Lewis might be that athlete on some days, but on Thursday, he was not one of them.
Last year, the Ranney boys basketball team strolled into the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals as the No. 2 seed expecting to walk over Marlboro and into the championship game. That did not happen, and Lewis wanted to make sure his teammates remembered.
"My schpiel on the bus started with, '50-to-47,'" said Lewis, referencing the final score of Ranney's loss to Marlboro in Toms River last year. "We sat around, kind of quiet, on the busing just reminiscing about that game. When we got (to Toms River) I started to get more upbeat and liven everyone's spirits up."
PHOTO GALLERY: Ranney vs. CBA by Paula Lopez
Facing a similar set of circumstances against fifth-seeded Christian Brothers Academy Thursday night at the RWJ Barnabas Health Arena, No. 1 Ranney stormed out to an early double-digit lead and never let CBA back up in a 69-53 over the most decorated Shore Conference program of the last 30 years.
"We talked about (the Marlboro game) - it's something we don't run from," said Ranney coach Tahj Holden, who was an assistant at CBA prior to taking the Ranney job three seasons ago."We were here in the same spot last year and we didn't get it done. We came in with the mindset to play our game and get done what we need to do."
With Thursday's win, Ranney advance to the school's first Shore Conference Tournament championship game of any kind. The Panthers will take on No. 2 seed and Shore Conference Class B Central rival Mater Dei Prep in Saturday's championship game at the OceanFirst Bank Center on the campus of Monmouth University, with tipoff slated for 8 p.m.
Lewis gave Ranney the lead for good when he scored the game's first points on a transition dunk, which proved to be a harbinger of things to come. Lewis finished the game with 24 points on 11-for-16 shooting with all 11 field goals coming in the paint and seven of them coming on dunks. Lewis also pitched in six rebounds and five assists in the win.
The ice-breaking dunk by Lewis ignited a 12-2 start to the game for Ranney and while CBA pulled within 20-13 by the end of the first quarter, that was as close as the Colts would get the rest of the way.
"You always want to be in a position where you are the team that's being chased," Holden said. "We got off to a great start against a team that really wanted to slow us down and they weren't able to do that, especially early."
By contrast, Ranney got off to a rocky offensive start against Marlboro in last year's 50-47 loss to the Mustangs and by the time the Panthers started to find their offensive rhythm, they were locked into a competitive game with a team that matched them blow-for-blow down the stretch.
Part of last year's offensive woes was an 0-for-6 first half by junior Bryan Antoine, who also struggled to find his outside shot on Thursday. Antoine, however, still dropped 12 points and like Lewis, all five of his field goals came in the paint. Antoine also racked up seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals in the win.
"He's a scorer even though most people see him as a shooter," Holden said of Antoine. "I always say he's going to give us 20 (points) no matter what happens and it generally almost always happens. Even on a night like tonight when doesn't get to 20, he still brings a lot to the team because he does so many different things on both sides of the floor."
With Lewis and Antoine leading the way, Ranney scored 48 points in the paint and hammered down 12 dunks, with senior Savior Akuwovo and junior Chris Autino adding one each.
Junior Alex Klatsky, meanwhile, accounted for all three of Ranney's three-pointers and finished with 12 points. Junior Ahmadu Sarnor also knocked down a pair of jumpers as part of a 10-point effort, giving Ranney four players in double-figure scoring.
CBA's junior duo of Stephen Braunstein and Josh Cohen each scored 18 points to lead the Colts, who, in addition to being unable to keep Ranney from getting to the rim, shot only 4-for-24 from beyond the three-point arc.
Thursday marked the first time Ranney and CBA have ever met in boys basketball and the team that had never reached an SCT final before Thursday night took down a CBA program that has won 16 conference championships and made 24 championship game appearances since 1984.
"We were hoping to get a chance to play CBA," Lewis said. "Bryan and I are great friends with (CBA point guard) Liam Kennedy. We seem him all the time working out over at Hoop Group. To play against our friend and to play against great competition, against a school with a rich tradition means a lot."
Ranney now turns its attention back to Mater Dei, which the Panthers defeated twice during the regular season. Ranney scored the first 13 points of a 59-45 win over the Seraphs in the first meeting between the teams and won a thriller at Mater Dei, 65-61. In that second win, Antoine scored twice in the final 1:30 to turn a two-point deficit into a two-point lead and Akuwovo blocked a shot on Mater Dei's final possession to seal the victory.
Not only will Ranney have to beat a quality team for a third time in order to capture its first ever SCT championship, but the Panthers will also have to wrestle it away from a program that has won two straight championships and is hungry for a third. Only twice has a team won more than two consecutive titles - CBA with four in a row from 1993 to 1996 and Neptune with a record seven straight from 1961 to 1967.
While Lewis and his fellow juniors missed out on a chance to make a run at three in a row by losing to Marlboro last year, they made sure they would get their first crack at a conference championship with their performance on Thursday.
"We were so hyped for tonight, not just because of redeeming ourselves for last year but to have a chance to go to the final and continue to make history," Lewis said.