TINTON FALLS - For 25 days, the Mater Dei boys basketball team had to live with a harsh, new reality: for the first time since the core of the team had been together, they were no longer the best team in the Shore Conference.

Monday at the Ranney School, the Seraphs - the No. 2 team in the latest Shore Sports Network Top 10 - got a chance to change that and took full advantage with a strong all-around performance in a 76-72 win over No. 1 Ranney. The Panthers handed Mater Dei their only loss to a Shore Conference team over the last two years, 58-56, back on Jan. 12.

Senior Elijah Barnes led four Mater Dei players in double-figure scoring with 21 points and junior Kenny Jones came up with a key steal in the final 10 seconds to help the Seraphs (17-3, 11-1) seal the win. The two Shore Conference Class B Central rivals are now tied in the division standings with two games to play.

"All season, even before the year, everybody was talking about Ranney," Barnes said. "We knew we had to make a statement. The first game, it was mental lapses that caused us to lose and in the second game, we weren't going to let that happen."

Ranney (15-3, 11-1) cut a 15-point halftime deficit to three and got the ball back with 15 seconds left after a pair of missed free throws. Jones, however, made sure the Panthers never got a shot off by stealing the ball from Scottie Lewis and knocking down the second of two foul shots with seven seconds left.

"I was guarding Ahmadu (Sarnor) and he's not a great shooter, so I helped off of him," Jones said. "(Lewis) had the ball out from his body, so I just reached for it and I got it."

Jones finished with 12 points, five rebounds, six assists and four steals, while Barnes also added eight rebounds in the win. Junior Yasin Pretlow chipped in 14 points and seven assists off the bench and junior Kyle Cardaci poured in 11 points, with both players hitting three three-pointers apiece. Junior Adam Afifi also contributed nine points and nine points and seven rebounds.

"Yasin and Kenny kind of took it personally that everybody jumped off of us and wanted to go talk about the two big sophomores and (Sarnor)," Barnes said. "We know that we have the best team in the Shore and that we're going to repeat (as Shore Conference Tournament champions). We just have to go out and showcase it."

Sophomore Bryan Antoine led Ranney with 27 points, six rebounds and four steals and Lewis chipped in 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Antoine converted a four-point play with 28.7 seconds left to cut Mater Dei's lead to 73-70, which was the closest Ranney got since it was 17-15 late in the first quarter.

Cardaci hit a pair of free throws to stretch Mater Dei's lead back to five with 27.2 seconds left and Antoine again answered with a drive to the basket to cut the Mater Dei lead to 75-72.

Pretlow then missed two free throws with 15 seconds left, which gave Ranney the ball back with a chance to tie the game with a three-pointer. Jones, however, denied the Panthers with the biggest defensive play of the game.

Jones and Pretlow also drew more prominent assignments on defense to open the game and both came out energized.

"The first game, (coach Ben Gamble) started me off on (Alex) Klatsky," Jones said. "He's an off-ball guard. Today, I started off with Bryan and I think I guarded him pretty well. Yasin came in and switched on to Bryan and I think he did a good job too."

Barnes scored nine straight Mater Dei points during the fourth quarter, which accounted for all nine of his points in the final quarter. He threw down two dunks during that stretch and also made a tough reverse that put the Seraphs ahead, 66-57.

Mater Dei began to take control of the game in the final minute of the first quarter, which ended on a three-pointer by Jones just before time expired that put the Seraphs ahead, 22-15. Senior Elijah Mitchell scored all seven of his points in that first quarter.

A floater by Ranney sophomore Ahmadu Sarnor pulled the Panthers back within seven at 33-26 late in the second quarter, but Mater Dei answered with a 10-2 run to close the half and take a 43-28 lead to the locker room. Afifi started the run with a one-handed dunk and Pretlow and Cardaci each drilled a three. Jones ended the run with a jumper off an offensive rebound.

Sarnor, who was an x-factor for Ranney with 14 points in the Jan. 12 win over Mater Dei, picked up two fouls within the first 48 seconds of the game and picked up a third with 2:30 left in the half. He played just five minutes in the first half.

"Our coach emphasized that our guards had to be more aggressive," Pretlow said. "We had to get other guards in foul trouble. With Ahmadu, we know he's a strong player and he likes to push off, so we tried to get him into foul trouble, which we did. Then, me and Kenny just took over as guards."

After Sarnor outplayed them in the first game, Jones and Pretlow were difference-makers for Mater Dei on Monday on both ends. Cardaci's presence has also helped Mater Dei's offense by giving the Seraphs an extra shooter to space the floor. Cardaci, who transferred to Mater Dei from Holmdel, was not eligible for the first game against Ranney.

"He opens things up," Gamble said of Cardaci. "He's a very good shooter and I had the four guards (Jones, Pretlow, Cardaci and Mitchell) that can give guys problems. Jones was solid today. Yasin had some big moments and I rely so much on Mitchell. Mitchell's been around me for three years now. That's my glue guy."

Ranney relied heavily on Antoine and Lewis for scoring, particularly early in the game. The two standout sophomores scored Ranney's first 22 points before Antoine found sophomore Chris Autino for a layup midway through the second quarter. Autino finished with six points while Sarnor and sophomore Alex Klatsky scored eight apiece.

"Against Mater Dei and against any team - but especially a team like that - you can't dig yourself a 15-point hole," Ranney coach Tahj Holden said. "But to our credit, we competed in the second half, we battled, and we had a chance to tie it up late in the game. To (Mater Dei's) credit, they did a great job in the first half taking us out of what we wanted to do and forcing into some stupid plays."

Monday's game was the first Ranney has played against a team with a winning record since a Jan. 20 win over Point Pleasant Beach. During the last two weeks, Ranney has handled Henry Hudson, Keyport, Keansburg and Asbury Park while trying to stay sharp for Mater Dei.

The Seraphs, meanwhile, had a similar division slate over the same time period, but also had weekend games against Lakewood and Holy Trinity of N.Y.

"I like the direction we're going in," Gamble said. "I hoped that these two games (Holy Trinity and Ranney) were going to define our team and we came through. I was challenging them all week because I really wanted to win both of these games."

Monday's game could give Mater Dei an inside track for the No. 1 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament, and the Seraphs players were adamant that the result solidifies them as the No. 1 team for the time being. Mater Dei and Ranney have occupied the top two spots in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 from the beginning of the season and both figure to be the top two seeds when the brackets are released on Sunday afternoon.

"We're going to be the No. 1 seed in the division and in the conference tournament," Jones said. "We're going to win these next two games and we're going to go far in the Shore Conference and states. That's our mindset."


Box Score

Mater Dei Prep 76, Ranney 72

Mater Dei (17-3, 11-1)1924141976
Ranney (15-3, 11-1)1513192572

Mater Dei (76): Kenny Jones 4 3-4 12, Kyle Cardaci 3 2-2 11, Adam Afifi 4 1-1 9, Elijah Barnes 9 2-3 21, Elijah Mitchell 3 1-2 7, Yasin Pretlow 4 3-6 14, Rajae Muhammed 1 0-0 2, Brandon Wilson 0 0-0 0, Marvin Pierre 0 0-0 0, Maleek McKnight 0 0-0 0, Kyle Devanney 0 0-0 0. Totals: 28 12-18 76

Three-pointers: Jones, Cardaci 3, Barnes, Pretlow 3

Ranney (72): Ahmadu Sarnor 3 2-5 8, Alex Klatsky 2 2-2 8, Chris Autino 2 0-0 6, Scottie Lewis 8 7-10 23, Bryan Antoine 8 10-12 27, Joe Mahoney 0 0-0 0, Kyle Smith 0 0-0 0, Sam Metzger 0 0-0 0. Totals: 24 21-29 72

Three-pointers: Klatsky 2, Antoine


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