MIDDLETOWN - In a battle between the state's most prestigious high school basketball program and a team of five sophomore starters who are essentially starting a program from scratch, it was indeed a sophomore from Monmouth County who made the game-deciding shot.

Unfortunately for the Ranney boys basketball team - the No. 2 squad in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - it was not one of the Panthers sophomores who hit the game-winner.

Sophomore Alexander Rice - the son of Monmouth University coach King Rice - drilled a tie-breaking three from the right wing with 4.2 seconds left to left St. Anthony to a thrilling 51-48 win over Ranney and extend the Friars' state-best winning streak to 41 games.

"I had a lot of family and friends here to watch me play," said Rice, whose father was in attendance. "They haven't really had a chance to see me play yet, so it was good to be closer to home and to get a win."

Rice, who lives in West Long Branch, capped a 24-point night with his fifth three-pointer of the game to help the Friars avoid a loss at the hands of a Ranney team that proved it belongs on the same floor as the state's best teams. He also served notice to anyone watching that Ranney sophomores Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis are not the only impact guards in the Class of 2019.

"They get a lot of hype, but I think I'm just as good of a player," Rice said. "I wanted to show that I'm just as good as them and I can play with anybody."

Ranney enjoyed the highest-profile regular-season game in its program's history and in front of a favorable crowd, the Panthers almost pulled off a program-defining win, which would have been the first time a Shore Conference team defeated St. Anthony since CBA beat the Friars in 2009. Almost, however, was not satisfactory for the Panthers.

"They're disappointed," Ranney coach Tahj Holden said. "Whenever you're in a position to win and the kid hits a shot that's contested, you want to win that game and you want to win against St. Anthony's and you want to break that streak. Forty in a row is pretty impressive and 41 in a row is impressive and we had a chance to break that streak. To their credit, they're well-coaches, they were poised down the stretch and (Rice) hit a great shot."

After Rice missed a short-range shot with 52 seconds left, the Friars snagged the offensive rebound and ran the clock down to 10 seconds. Senior guard R.J. Cole penetrated into the middle of Ranney's zone before kicking to Rice on the right wing, where the sophomore calmly drained a 23-foot three-pointer that helped the Friars avoid overtime and the upset.

According to St. Anthony coach and Hall-of-Famer Bob Hurley, with two players sidelined and two five-star recruits on the opposing teams, he did not view his team as the favorite heading into the game.

"The hard thing (for Holden) is tomorrow, you want to take them back to practice and say 'You did a good job. But you lost,'" Hurley said. "'You lost to a St. Anthony team that's not a great St. Anthony's team that didn't have the whole team.' You make them realize that it's all about winning and they should have beaten us with what they had today and with the way we played. They should have beaten us."

Antoine led Ranney with 19 points, seven rebounds and four steals while classmate Scottie Lewis posted his first career triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks. Lewis also had four assists - all of which came in the second half.

"I think with this game, we showed a lot and we proved a lot, even though we lost," Lewis said. "We did a lot of good things, but we did a lot of bad things."

"We showed we can play with any team in the state," Antoine said. "Losing by three on a game-winner to St. Anthony's, who has won 40 games in a row - that's pretty good for an 11th-ranked team in the state."

The sophomore duo left an impression with Hurley who has both coached and coached against countless Division I players, as well as a long list of pros.

"I think this upside, for these guys, is way, way up," Hurley said. "I think, particularly Antoine has a chance to, and I hate to use the word, be a professional level guard down the road. And (Lewis) is extraordinarily quick and explosive. They are very impressive, watching both of them."

Rice and St. Anthony appeared poised to bury Ranney early thanks to a 16-6 run to open the game, which eventually became a 22-12 lead after Rice hit his fourth three-pointer, giving him 17 of his team's first 22 points.

Ranney, however, responded with a 17-5 run to close out the first half and led St. Anthony 29-27 going into the break. Lewis scored 10 of his points in the first half, including a putback in the closing seconds of the second quarter that gave the Panthers their first lead. The 6-5 sophomore also scored Ranney's first eight points of the game.

Antoine scored 12 of his points in the second quarter after getting shut out on four field goal attempts in the first quarter. He got going by diving to the floor for a steal, passing the ball to senior Joe Mahoney and popping out for a three-pointer from the left wing that cut the St. Anthony lead to 19-11 early in the second.

"I asked (Holden), 'Why am I playing so terrible?' and he said I wasn't playing hard," Antoine said. "Then I remember, I tipped the ball and it went to halfcourt and I dove for the ball, and that's when I picked it up."

The two teams went back-and-forth during the third quarter, with sophomore Alex Klatsky putting Ranney on top, 40-38, with a three from the right corner before Cole knocked down a 17-footer to close out the third-quarter scoring and send the game to the fourth tied at 40. The senior Howard University signee finished with 18 points and six assists for the Friars.

An alley-oop dunk by Antoine on a lob from sophomore Ahmadu Sarnor gave Ranney a 44-40 lead on the Friars with 6:36 left, but St. Anthony responded with an 8-0 run to take a 48-44 lead with 2:59 left. Cole keyed the run with a three-pointer and an old-fashioned three-point play to propel the Friars into the lead before a putback by sophomore Nika Chechelashvili made it 48-44.

"After Bryan's dunk, they called timeout and I think we changed our mindset for about two minutes, which we shouldn't have done," Lewis said. "That's where they got their 8-0 run. They played the same defense they played the whole game, maybe with a little more intensity. After a timeout, we said we need to come out with the same kind of intensity that we had at the beginning of the fourth quarter."

Lewis then found sophomore Chris Autino for a layup to cut the lead to 48-46 and Antoine stole the ball and threw down a one-handed dunk to tie the game with 1:30 left.

"I've seen these guys so much that nothing surprises me," Holden said of his team. "I've known Bryan Antoine since the third grade, so when I see him do a lot of the things he does, I kind of think, 'Well, I've seen that before.' When you put it into context, that's a 16-year-old sophomore who just went up and dunked that alley-oop."


Ranney baited St. Anthony ball-handlers into traps on two different occasions on the final possession, but could not force the turnover as Antoine did on the prior St. Anthony possession.

"I'll be honest," Antoine said. "I got a steal, dunked the ball, and when I came back (on defense), I was so tired. They kept passing the ball back and forth and I had to keep following it. Then I knew Alexander Rice or R.J. Cole was going to shoot the ball and Rice got the ball and he made the shot."

With 4.2 seconds left, sophomore Ahmadu Sarnor passed the ball to Antoine, who lost the ball at midcourt while trying to split a double-team. Cole picked up the ball as the clock wound down to all zeroes.

Ranney will have little time to lament Tuesday's missed opportunity because the Panthers will have to get right to work preparing to play Class B Central rival Mater Dei on the road on Thursday - the first of two divisional meetings between the two heavy favorites to reach the Shore Conference Tournament final at this stage of the season.

Last year, Mater Dei beat Ranney in all three meetings, which accounted for three of the Panthers' four losses during the season.

"This was good for us, because it showed us what we are really good at and what we're really bad at," Lewis said. "(St. Anthony) exposed a lot about us. We're going to work on those things, we're going to progress off that and Thursday's obviously a big game. We owe them three."