MIDDLETOWN - At halftime of his team's Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase game Saturday against defending NJSIAA Tournament of Champions winner the Patrick School, Ranney junior Scottie Lewis listened to coach Tahj Holden's halftime message and took it to heart.

"Coach said he didn't want to have to say it but it's time to man up," Lewis said of the message from his head coach, a former center at the University of Maryland and a key member of its 2002 National Championship team. "He said, 'You're playing like little boys and this isn't a game for little boys. This is a man's game.'"

After taking the court in the second-half nursing a one-point lead, Lewis and Ranney grew up in real time in front of a capacity crowd at Robert J. Collins Arena on the campus of Brookdale Community College, blowing past the Celtics, 59-43, thanks to a ferocious final 12 minutes.

"We are Ranney basketball and we represent something more than just academics now," Lewis said. "We have to prove that we can compete with anyone, not just in the Shore Conference."

Lewis led the way for Ranney with 21 points, eight rebounds and eight assists and classmate Bryan Antoine added 20 points - including 16 in the second half. Lewis was named Ranney's game MVP.

Ranney scored only six points and turned the ball over nine times in the second quarter on Saturday, but still went into the halftime locker room with a 26-25 halftime lead on the team that rolled to the Tournament of Champions title last year and began the season nationally ranked by MaxPreps. The Panthers led 20-12 late in the first quarter before Patrick School rallied to briefly take the lead late in the second quarter.

"They threw a press at us during that second quarter, which we weren't really expecting," Holden said. "At halftime, we talked about staying composed if we saw it again and getting the game back at the tempo we wanted to play.

"The other thing was keeping them to one shot, which we didn't do well enough in the second quarter. I thought we did a better job competing on the defensive end and on the boards and that fed into everything else."

The two teams traded blows early in the third quarter until Ranney took the game over with a 14-0 run from the middle of the third to the early part of the fourth. Lewis and Antoine combined for all 14 points during the run, which turned a 36-34 deficit into a 48-36 lead. Antoine scored the first five points of the surge with a three-pointer and a fastbreak dunk, while before Lewis led the charge with nine points.

All told, the junior duo combined to score Ranney's last 29 points of the game.

Senior 6-9 center Savior Akuwovo contributed eight points, 13 rebounds and three steals while holding 6-10 Patrick School center Valdir Manuel to two points.

"He's a force to be reckoned with," Lewis said of Akuwovo. "With him, we have the best frontcourt and the best backcourt."

Akuwovo is the newest member of Ranney's team after playing at St. Anthony last season. Patrick School beat St. Anthony last year at the Dan Finn Classic, but Akuwovo led a defensive effort that held current seven-foot Kentucky freshman Nick Richards to five points and four rebounds while also scoring eight points and grabbing six boards of his own.

"I've played against Valdir and I knew I had to keep him off the boards," Akuwovo said. "In the post, if Valdir get going, it's difficult to stop so coming into the game, I had the mentality to make him uncomfortable, maybe get him in foul trouble and get him feeling a little shaky. I think I did a pretty good job of that."

A year ago, the Patrick School beat Ranney, 66-56, in the South Jersey Non-Public B semifinals, with Manuel lead the Celtics with 16 points. Junior Al-Amir Dawes led Patrick School with a game-high 23 points.

"Last year, we had to worry about stopping Richards and a couple other of their big guys and Manuel ended up beating us," Holden said. "Obviously, Savior makes a big difference for us, but it's a lot different when you don't have to worry about an athletic seven-footer like Richards."

Ranney's performance on Saturday was a strong response to its second loss of the season, which the Panthers suffered on New Year's Day against Montclair Immaculate in Paterson, 69-61. Ranney bounced back from a 20-point loss to McEachern of Georgia by winning three straight games for the consolation bracket championship at the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Fla.

The loss to Montclair Immaculate came after an eight-day layoff and although the Panthers struggled during the second quarter, they posted 20 points in the first quarter to get off to a fast start.

"We had to get out of the mentality that focuses on the self," Lewis said. "We played as a team today and won as a team by just staying together."

With his 21 points on Saturday, Lewis now has 943 for his career and three games coming up this week. The last two of those games are a home showdown against two-time defending Shore Conference Tournament champion Mater Dei Prep on Thursday, followed by a trip to the prestigious Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass. Ranney will take on Maryland power Mount St. Joseph on Jan. 14.

"Everything is (about) time," Lewis said. "We've played at Brookdale freshman year and sophomore year and in some other big events. Now we're juniors and we're much older, much more mature and a lot more poised and that's why we got the 'W' today. Now we go to Massachussetts to play one of the best teams from Maryland and we can't wait for that."


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