TINTON FALLS - The Mater Dei boys basketball players treated their Shore Conference Class B Central showdown with Ranney Tuesday like it was any other game, but coach Ben Gamble knows it was potentially the start of a budding rivalry.

Tuesday night at the Ranney School, the Seraphs - ranked No. 2 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - stormed out of the gate to hand No. 6 Ranney its first loss, take round one of the new rivalry, 64-50, and move to the front of the line in the B Central division race.

"I told the kids yesterday: this is the beginning of a four-year rivalry," Gamble said. "They've got their young kids over there and they're pretty good. I've got some good kids too and a good young group so (tonight) was like the beginning of this four-year rivalry.

"I looked around before the game and it was standing room only. It's great for high school basketball. I've always said I'd rather be in a little tiny gym than in an arena with a bunch of empty seats."

Senior Kyle Elliot and junior Elijah Mitchell scored 14 points apiece to lead four Mater Dei players in double-figure scoring. Mitchell also had three assists and two steals, while Elliot chipped in eight rebounds and three steals.

"I think we showed (Ranney) that we're more athletic than the teams they faced before us," Mitchell said. "It felt like a statement game for us."

Senior Elijah Barnes added 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocks despite fouling out early in the fourth quarter and sitting more than seven minutes of the third quarter with fourth fouls. Senior Bryan Harris pitched in 11 points off the bench and senior Josh Green added nine in the win.

Mitchell also defended Ranney freshman and second-leading scorer Scottie Lewis for near the entirety of his time on the floor. Senior NyQuan McCombs (four points, six assists, four steals) defended freshman and Ranney leading scorer Bryan Antoine.

"It was a tough assignment, but I like locking down the star," McCombs said. "We've got a lot of scorers on our team, so I wanted to focus on stopping (Antoine). I knew he was hot the last couple games, so I wanted to keep his points low."

Both Lewis and Antoine finished with 14 points each to lead the Panthers, while senior James Geraghty added 10 in defeat.

"I watched them play four times," Gamble said. "Bryan, nobody really pressures him fullcourt. They just let him bring it up and get in their offense so this was the first time in this kid's high school career that he had a veteran guard, Nyke McCombs, that was just going to wear him out and I think he got to him early."

"He's a tall, athletic guard," said McCombs of Antoine, who entered the game averaging 24 points per game. "The low man wins, so I had to get low, stay in my stance and stay with him. I tried to just use my quickness."

Antone did bounce back for 12 points in the second half, including a pair of three-point plays - one of which was a two-handed slam.

"I don't know which films (Gamble) saw, but everyone has tried to pressure Antoine and make him work a little bit," Ranney coach Tahj Holden said. "They just did a good job of it. They have quick guards. (McCombs) is shorter, but he's really quick and he's agressive. He's the type of defender that can bother Bryan a little bit because he's just as quick, just not as big."

Mater Dei began the game on a 12-2 run, including 10 straight points. By halftime the Seraphs built their lead to 34-12, holding Lewis to five points and Antoine to just two on 1-for-5 shooting.

With McCombs at Antoine's hip all over the court and Mitchell battling Lewis, the Seraphs forced the ball out of Antoine's hands and did not let either catch it with many chances to score. During the first half, Geraghty led the Panthers in shot attempts and shot 1-for-7 from the field.

"They have guys who can hit open shots, but we tried to make them work and tire them out so those shots became harder to make," Gamble said.

"You could see them getting tired pretty early," Mitchell said.

Mater Dei's defense also forced Ranney into 18 turnovers while the Seraphs themselves committed 18 as well. Ranney forced eight Mater Dei turnovers in the fourth quarter and pulled to within 10, 60-50, after Lewis threw down a dunk. After that basket, however, there were only 33.9 seconds remaining in the game.

"We didn't play the way we were supposed to at the end, but we know that and we'll fix that," McCombs said. "We know we have to see them again and they'll want to try to play better, so it's our job to keep getting better too."

With Tuesday's win, the Seraphs gained the inside track at winning the Class B Central championship, moving a game ahead of both Ranney and St. Rose. Mater Dei will host the Purple Roses on Friday in its next game.

Prior to Tuesday, Mater Dei had just begun to ramp up its schedule. The Seraphs lost a hard-fought, 38-35 game to defending NJSIAA Non-Public A champion Pope John on Jan. 3, then pulled away for a win over Neptune in the Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase this past Saturday.

After facing St. Rose on Friday, Mater Dei will play St. Peter's Prep the next day at the Dan Finn Classic at the Jersey City Armory and will take on Asbury Park on Tuesday, when transfers Kenny Jones, Marvin Pierre and Maleek McKnight will all become eligible.

"I keep emphasizing that we're a good team defensively," Gamble said. "We got a little sloppy there at the end. I'm not that happy with the way we finished the game, but it's a good win."

Ranney, meanwhile, will have to recover from its first loss of the season and, for the four freshman starters, the first loss of their careers. The Panthers will host Henry Hudson on Friday, then travel to play 7-2 Raritan on Saturday.

"We all knew coming in that this entire season wasn't going to be easy," Holden said. "We got off to a nice start and we ran into a bit of a buzzsaw today. They've been playing well and they are still waiting on three rotation guys. We wanted to win this one, you always want to defend home court, but it's a great learning opportunity."


Box Score

Mater Dei Prep 64, Ranney 50

1 2 3 4 F
Mater Dei (7-1, 5-0) 16 18 13 17 64
Ranney (9-1, 4-1) 7 5 14 24 50


Mater Dei (64): Nyke McCombs 1 2-5 4, Kyle Elliot 2 9-15 14, Elijah Barnes 5 2-3 12, Josh Green 4 0-0 9, Elijah Mitchell 4 5-7 14, Bryan Harris 4 3-3 11, Sky Cherry 0 0-0 0, Tom Hannafin 0 0-0 0, Sean Krueger 0 0-0 0, Kyle Devaney 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 21-33 64

Three-pointers: Elliot, Green, Mitchell

Fouled Out: Barnes

Ranney (50): Bryan Antoine 5 3-6 14, Alex Klatsky 0 0-0 0, Chris Autino 3 0-0 6, Scottie Lewis 6 2-4 14, James Geraghty 4 2-4, Sam Metzger 0 2-5 2, Joe Mahoney 0 4-6 4, Kyle Smith 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 13-25 50

Three-pointers: Antoine