Boys Basketball – No. 1 Ranney and No. 2 Mater Dei Resume Rivalry on Thursday
No. 2 Mater Dei Prep (8-1, 4-0) at No. 1 Ranney (8-2, 3-0)
5:30 p.m. at the Ranney School
Update: According to Ranney athletic director Natalie Gorman, the venue is already sold out and no tickets will be sold at the door. Doors open at 4 p.m. for ticket-holders.
The Ranney boys basketball team has not finished a season No. 1 in the Shore Conference, but the Panthers got a taste of the top-ranking at the Shore last year – that is, until Mater Dei Prep took it away from them by beating them on their own home floor.
Thursday night, the Panthers will again look to protect a No. 1 ranking against the rival Seraphs at Ranney in a showdown of the top two teams in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and two of the top 10 teams in the state, according to NJ.com.
Since Ben Gamble took over the Mater Dei job and Ranney’s heralded junior class entered high school along with head coach Tahj Holden ahead of the 2015-16 season, the teams have met five times, with Gamble and Mater Dei owning a 4-1 advantage over Bryan Antoine, Scottie Lewis and Ranney. Mater Dei won three games by eight points or more when the current crop of Ranney juniors were freshmen and the teams split the regular-season series last year – with the Panthers winning the first game at Mater Dei and the Seraphs returning the favor at Ranney later in the year.
Ranney has added one player to its original four-man core in each of the past two seasons. Last year, current junior Ahmadu Sarnor joined the Panthers to give them a ball-handler, on-ball defender and third scorer. This year, Sarnor has scaled back is shot attempts in favor of distributing and defending, although he is coming off a strong effort vs. Asbury Park in which he put up 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
The newest member of Ranney’s squad is its only senior, 6-8 center Savior Akuwovo. Like Rice, Akuwovo transferred out of St. Anthony after the school closed and two of the Friars’ top players from a year ago are now part of the Shore Conference’s top current rivalry. Akuwovo is averaging 10.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
Antoine and Lewis have been at the forefront of Ranney’s ascendance to the top tier of the Shore Conference and Lewis is on the cusp of joining his classmate as part of a milestone club. Lewis enters Thursday 17 points shy of 1,000 for his varsity career, a plateau Antoine reached during the Shore Conference Tournament as a sophomore last season. Lewis is averaging 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.9 assists and was named Player of the Game in Ranney’s win over defending Tournament of Champions winner the Patrick School. Lewis put up 21 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in that game.
During his junior year, Antoine has continued his trajectory toward the very top of the list of best players to ever pass through the Shore Conference. He is the first player in Shore history to reach 1,000 points as a sophomore and he has not let up this year, averaging 23.1 points per game so far this year.
Juniors and Alex Klatsky and Chris Autino have not been required to shoulder as much of the load as they were when they were freshmen starters, but both have improved while carving out roles on the team. Klatsky remains a knock-down shooting and Autino adds frontcourt depth along with Akuwovo. Autino is coming off his best game of the season on Tuesday, when he scored 18 points in a win over Keyport.
In each of the past two seasons, Mater Dei played Ranney in the first regular-season meeting while waiting on at least one impact transfer to become eligible and the same applies this season. Sophomore forward and 6-foot-6 Trenton Catholic transfer Jamir Watkins will become eligible on Jan. 16 against Point Pleasant Beach and will not get a chance to face Ranney until the teams meet at Mater Dei Prep on Feb. 5.
Two years ago, current senior point guard Kenny Jones was ineligible the first time the two rivals met and he has since become a significant part of the series. Jones will play at Loyola University in Maryland next season and is looking to lead Mater Dei to third straight titles in both B Central divisional and in the Shore Conference Tournament. He is averaging 12.7 points and just under six assists so far.
Last year, senior Kyle Cardaci missed the first Ranney-Mater Dei game after transferring from Holmdel and joined the lineup as an impact scorer who transformed Mater Dei’s offense on the way to the team’s second straight Shore Conference Tournament title. Cardaci is leading the Seraphs in scoring this season at 16.4 points per game.
Seniors Yasin Pretlow and Adam Afifi are also back for Mater Dei, with Pretlow coming up big for the Seraphs in arguably their biggest win of the early part of the season. The senior guard scored 21 points and hit a runner at the buzzer in a 56-55 win over St. Mary’s of Elizabeth on Dec. 17. The 6-9 Afifi, meanwhile, has been one of the Shore’s most improved all-around players, becoming a shot-blocking force around the rim while also developing a consistent mid-range jumper.
Junior guard Alexander Rice is the newest member of the Seraphs after transferring from now-closed St. Anthony following his sophomore year. The son of Monmouth University coach King Rice is averaging 13.3 points in his first season at Mater Dei, good for second on the team.
The two teams are heading into Thursday’s game on slightly different trajectories. Ranney dropped a 69-61 game to Montclair Immaculate on Jan. 1 but responded in a big way with a 59-43 win over the Patrick School on Saturday at Brookdale. Mater Dei, meanwhile, beat defending Group III champion Teaneck on New Year’s Day but squandered a nine-point fourth-quarter lead in a 10-point loss to Roman Catholic of Philadelphia on Saturday. Both teams also won divisional games on Tuesday, with Ranney beating Asbury Park and Keyport and Mater Dei topping Henry Hudson and St. Rose.
Head-to-Head Since 2015-16
Jan. 12, 2016
Mater Dei 64, Ranney 50
Senior Josh Elliot and junior Elijah Mitchell each scored 14 points and junior Elijah Barnes added 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocks as Mater Dei jumped out to a big lead early and rolled past the freshman-heavy Panthers. Lewis and Antoine also scored 14 points apiece in the loss.
Feb. 4, 2016
Mater Dei 64, Ranney 52
Ranney was much more competitive throughout the second meeting between the teams in 2015-16, but the result was the same. Senior NyQuan McCombs led Mater Dei with 18 points and six assists, while Barnes added 17 points and six rebounds in the win. Lewis turned in 20 points, nine rebounds and three blocks to lead Ranney while Antoine poured in a losing cause.
Feb. 21, 2016
Mater Dei 47, Ranney 39 (Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals)
Barnes scored 13 points and McCombs poured in 12, but the name of the game was defense in Mater Dei’s third win over Ranney in as many games during the 2015-16 season. The win was part of Mater Dei’s run to its first ever Shore Conference Tournament championship. Antoine led the Panthers with 14 points, while Scottie Lewis posted 10 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in defeat.
Jan. 12, 2017
Ranney 58, Mater Dei 56
Bryan Antoine scored 15 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and Ranney rallied from a seven-point deficit with six minutes left to beat Mater Dei and ascend to the No. 1 ranking at the Shore for the first time in program history. Ahmadu Sarnor added 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in his first game in the rivalry, while Lewis overcame foul trouble to contribute 11 points, six rebounds, five assists and four blocks.
Barnes led Mater Dei with 20 points and seven assists, while Pretlow and Mitchell scored 10 points each for the Seraphs, who played the first game of the season against Ranney without Cardaci.
Feb. 6, 2017
Mater Dei 76, Ranney 72
The Seraphs denied Ranney a chance to be the No. 1 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament by beating the Panthers on their home floor. Barnes led the way with 21 points and three of the principle actors in Thursday’s game – Jones, Pretlow and Cardaci – were key factors. Jones had 12 points, five rebounds, six assists and four steals, Pretlow scored 14 points and Cardaci netted 11 in his first game against Ranney.
Antoine and Lewis both delivered for Ranney on the statsheet, with Antoine putting up 27 points, six rebounds and four steals and Lewis posting 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists in the loss.