UNION TWP. - Ranney coach Tahj Holden said his team has gotten used to opponents treating playing the Panthers as though it is the Super Bowl.

On Sunday, Ranney ran into a team who validated its aspirations to win New Jersey High School basketball's equivalent.

Gill St. Bernard blitzed Ranney during the first 12 minutes and the Panthers could not get over the hump in the final minute in their 62-60 loss to the Knights at the Hearts 2 Hands Showcase at Kean University.

"They have two McDonald's All-Americans, whatever that means," said Gill St. Bernard senior and Rutgers commit Paul Mulcahy, who posted 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists on Sunday. "We know we're the best team in the state. The young kids are happy (about the win) but I wasn't expecting anything less than a win today."

Gill St. Bernard senior Paul Mulcahy defended by Ranney's Phillip Wheeler (4) and Scottie Lewis (behind). (Photo by Matt Manley)

The Panthers had no answer for Gill St. Bernard forward Connor Murphy, who scored a game-high 20 points in a game that featured McDonald's All-Americans Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine on the Ranney side, Mulcahy and Division I recruits Zach Martini and Will Soucie. Murphy was routinely matched up against one of Ranney's guards and used his 6-foot-6 frame to control the paint.

"Gill played a great game," Holden said. "They had a good gameplan, the executed,  they defended enough to get us out of sorts a little bit. We didn't execute, we didn't get out in transition like we should have, we didn't rebound - they wanted it more."

Martini was a concern for Ranney after he put up 19 points and 17 rebounds in a loss to Roselle Catholic on Friday but was not quite as effective while scoring 10 points and fouling out midway through the fourth quarter.

On the other side, Lewis led Ranney (15-2) with 18 points and seven rebounds and senior Ahmadu Sarnor made his season debut with 12 points, five rebounds and four assists, including the game-tying basket with 20 seconds to go.

Sarnor - a starter since transferring to Ranney as a sophomore in 2016-17 - was required by the NJSIAA to sit for Ranney's first 16 games because he played 16 games as an eighth-grader in Pennsylvania.

Senior Alex Klatsky also scored 12 points for Ranney on four three-pointers, one of which was a half-court shot to beat the second-quarter buzzer. The other three came in the fourth quarter and helped keep Ranney in the game as the Knights were trying to put it on ice.

Noticeably absent from Ranney's list of scorers in double-figures was Antoine, who finished with a season-low nine points on 3-for-7 shooting from the floor with freshman Denver Anglin guarding him for most of the game. After scoring only two points on 1-for-5 shooting in the first half, Antoine took and made just two shot attempts in the second half and got to the foul line for two free-throw attempts.

"I think he was off early, which I think got in his head a little bit," Holden said of Antoine. "If you are in your own head, it's hard to get out.

"He'll bounce back. I have all the confidence in the world against him. We needed him to score a little bit more today, he didn't and we didn't do enough to help him get open. A lot of times, it's not the big things like hitting shots but the little things like executing the plays on offense that lead to better shots."

Both teams started the game sloppily on the offensive end - Ranney shooting the ball and Gill St. Bernard protecting it. Ranney shot 2 for its first 13 while the Knights turned the ball over in five of its first seven possessions and committed seven turnovers in the first quarter.

When Gill St. Bernard (15-3) was not turning it over, however, the Knights were converting shots, shooting 5-for-7 in the first quarter to stake claim to a 15-6 lead. The Knights carried that offensive rhythm into the second quarter and scored on their first four possessions to extend their lead to 24-8 with under five minutes left until halftime.

Ranney came to life with a 10-0 run to pull within 24-18 and went into the half trailing 32-27 after Klatsky's half-court heave.

Gill St. Bernard did not let Ranney tie the game until Sarnor's layup made it 60-60 despite the Panthers getting within two twice in the early stages of the third quarter. Gill St. Bernard went to the fourth quarter with a 46-39 lead and Ranney did not get closer than five until Klatsky knocked down a three-pointer to make it 58-53 with 3:05 to go.

After an offensive foul on Mulcahy, Lewis earned a trip to the foul line and hit two free throws to trim the deficit to three, but Mulcahy answered with a nifty drive to the basket that he finished after faking a pass.

Klatsky came through with a three-pointer out of the left corner to cut the Knights lead to 60-58 with 34 seconds left. Ranney then forced a five-second call on an inbound play at half court to get the ball back and set up Sarnor's game-tying drive with 20 seconds left.

Klatsky was whistled for a blocking foul with 15 seconds left to send Mulcahy to the free-throw line. The senior missed two front-ends of one-and-ones on his previous two attempts, but calmly buried both on his last trip to give Gill St. Bernard the 62-60 lead.

Lewis missed a close-range shot on the other end but Ranney retained possession underneath the basket and junior Phillip Wheeler was fouled on the ensuing inbound play.

After a timeout, Wheeler missed the front end of his one-and-one attempt with 3.4 seconds left.

Tommy Stinson missed two free throws with 1.6 seconds left on the other end, but Mulcahy batted the ball out to midcourt to end the game.

"A lot of times coaches say, 'Winning masks a lot,'" Holden said. "We have done a lot of winning this year and came out on the winning end of a couple of games that were close where we did a little bit extra. Today, we didn't have that."

Sunday's game started two hours later than expected because a St. Benedict's player shattered the backboard during pregame warm-ups prior to the team's game against Nazareth (Pa.) a little before 3 p.m.

Sunday's win for Gill St. Bernard came two days after the Knights dropped a 48-47 heartbreaker to Roselle Catholic - currently the No. 2 team in the state. Gill St. Bernard led that game, 28-16, early in the third quarter, which was larger than any second-half lead the Knights held on Ranney.

Ranney will bounce back with a Class B Central meeting with Keansburg on Monday before clashing with Roselle Catholic in arguably the most anticipated regular-season basketball game in N.J. this season. The game will feature three McDonald's All-Americans - Lewis, Antoine and Roselle Catholic swingman and Kentucky-bound Kahlil Whitney - and will be a rematch of last year's memorable 63-61 Roselle Catholic win in the Non-Public B championship.

"If we get outrebounded the way we did tonight, it's going to be an even uglier result," Holden said. "Roselle Catholic presents a different set of problems than Gill does. They have a little more athleticism."

The two titans will clash in the second game of the Shore Challenge double-header at Brookdale Community College, scheduled to tip-off at 7:30 p.m. Ticket information can be found here.

 

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