MIDDLETOWN - There were no alley-oops, no dunks, no 30-point performances and hardly any substitutions from the Ranney boys basketball team Saturday at Brookdale in the finale of the Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase.

The high-flying Panthers didn't need any of them. All they needed was typical offensive games from its two five-star seniors, a gritty defensive effort and three key plays from its stand out freshman to make a statement to the rest of New Jersey.

Senior Bryan Antoine scored 26 points, classmate Scottie Lewis added 17 and freshman Elijah Perkins made three critical plays in the fourth quarter to help Ranney - the No. 1 team in both the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and the NJ.com State Top 20 - edge previously-unbeaten Bergen Catholic, 56-55, for its 10th straight win to open the season.

PHOTOS: Ranney vs. Bergen Catholic by Paula Lopez

Ranney freshman Elijah Perkins. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

"We played a pretty good game," Ranney coach Tahj Holden said. "I know a couple of our guys were frustrated hearing people ask, 'How are we going to stop the Bergen Catholic big guys?' We were thinking about, 'How are they going to stop us?'"

Saturday is likely to be Ranney's last game playing without both junior Phillip Wheeler and senior Ahmadu Sarnor, with the former slated to make his Ranney debut Sunday against MacDuffie of Massachusetts in the Bronx for the Empire invitational. That meant the Panthers had only six players in its rotation against the No. 3 team in the state and the starters accounted for all by one minute.

"After winning the John Wall (Invitational) playing with only five or six guys, I felt really confident about our team," Antoine said. "We get Phil back tomorrow and Ahmadu back in a couple weeks so we feel confident that once we get those guys back, we are going to be even better."

While the starters took up nearly every second of the playing time, Antoine and Lewis once again accounted for the lion's share of the points. The duo combined for 43 points, or 77 percent of the scoring - which is in line with the 75 percent Antoine and Lewis have accounted for in Ranney's other five non-conference games this season.

Antoine shot 9-for-16 from the field, 4-for-9 from three-point range and 4-for-4 from the free-throw line while Lewis was 7-for-16 from the field and 3-for-3 from the foul line. Antoine went just 1-for-4 from the floor in the first quarter but made four straight three-point attempts during the second quarter to propel Ranney to a 30-28 halftime lead after the Panthers scored only two points in the first four minutes of the game.

During the second half, Antoine attempted only one three-point shot and made a concerted effort to get to the basket.

"Something just clicked in me and I decided to attack the basket," Antoine said. "I realized that every time I attacked the basket, there was no one in the middle so if I attack the basket and if the big man helps out, just go up. Try to get a bucket or a foul."

Perkins and senior Alex Klatsky accounted for the other 13 points, with Perkins pouring in seven and Klatsky connecting on a pair of three-pointers for six points.

Perkins, Klatsky and starting senior center Chris Autino gave Ranney some quality play on defense and on the glass. Perkins, in particular made an impact on both ends of the floor and made three of the biggest plays of the fourth quarter to help close out the win.

"Practicing with these guys every day makes me a better player each and every day," Perkins said. "These guys are top-tier All-Americans and we are battling every day. It's a blessing."

With Ranney trailing the Crusaders, 50-48, and a little more than four minutes left, Ranney failed to convert on the offensive end and Bergen Catholic broke out for a seemingly easy fast break. Senior Justin Regis went up for a layup but Perkins tracked back from the opposite baseline and pinned the shot against the backboard to deny the Crusaders an easy two points.

"It was an incredible block, but there was only one player back for us on defense," Holden said. "Had the two or three guys watching at half court gotten all the way back, we might have gotten the defensive rebound, but it was a heck of a play. You could argue that was the play that won us the game."

"I take pride in my defense," Perkins said. "I don't ever want to them score at any time. So when I see somebody going for the open layup, I'm going to sprint down to court to try to block it. It just happened to be a big play in the game, but that's my mindset every time."

Lewis followed with a game-tying scoop layup on the other end and gave Ranney the lead with a pair of free throws. St. Peter's commit Doug Edert responded with a floater to pull Bergen Catholic even, 52-52.

Edert's shot with two minutes left set up Perkins, who got a one-on-one matchup, dribbled into the paint and got a floater to bounce in for the go-ahead score with 1:40 left.

"It's more like, 'If you get the ball and you're open, just go,'" Perkins said. "They don't get mad when I shoot an open shot or if anybody takes an open shot. Don't overshoot, but everybody here can score so if the other team wants to leave somebody open, we have to try to take advantage. (Antoine and Lewis) don't want to shoot it every time."

On the following possession, the 6-foot-3 freshman guard drew an offensive foul to give Ranney the ball back with 1:02 left to play.

Antoine hit both ends of a 1-and-1 with 41.8 seconds left to push the lead to 56-55, but 6-9 junior Matt Zona came back with a three-pointer to pull the Crusaders within 56-55 with 24.7 seconds left.

Perkins finally showed his age by missing the front end of a 1-and-1 to give Bergen Catholic the ball back with 20 seconds left. After giving two fouls, Ranney forced freshman Will Richardson into a tough floater in the final seconds, but Xavier commit Zach Freemantle batted the ball out to a wide-open Edert. The senior got off a 17-footer, but it missed wide to seal the Ranney win.

Zona led Bergen Catholic with 17 points and Freemantle posted 12, but the Panthers interior defense made the two bruising forwards work hard on the offensive end despite giving up plenty of size. Lewis spent most of the game on Freemantle while Autino battled Zona for most of his time on the floor.

 

"We have only really faced one other big guy and this is the first time we have faced a true high-low game, which is a lost art," Holden said. "You rarely see a team with two big guys who are willing to pass like those two. Credit to our guys - we had a good game plan defensively that they executed. I thought Chris played his ass off, gave us big minutes and didn't foul out. He is an incredible kid - he just does what we ask him to do."

Autino pulled down a team-best nine rebounds while Klatsky plucked six to go with his six points.

Ranney senior Chris Autino battles Bergen Catholic forward and Xavier commit Zach Freemantle. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Ranney will have to turn around and play a MacDuffie team that boasts fifth-year high school players. The Panthers expect to have some additional help for the rotation in the form of Wheeler, the 6-7 transfer from Rumson-Fair Haven who has yet to play a regular-season game with his new team.

With Wheeler and Sarnor - who is due back on Jan. 26 against Gill St Bernard - the starting five plus senior Mike Dettro have had to hang tough and have not broken over the first 10 games despite facing some precarious positions. It took a technical four for an illegal substitution for Ranney to get out of the first round of the John Wall Invitational.

That win in Raleigh, N.C. followed wins over West Nottingham of Maryland and Don Bosco that were both close in the fourth quarter.

"Any time you have guys the caliber that we have, even if it's just one-through-six, you have a chance to win any game you play," Holden said. "If we do things right, control the pace, hit some open shots, we are going to be pretty tough to beat."

 

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