Boys Basketball – Ranney Faces Tall Task in Reid, Roselle Catholic Wednesday at Shore Challenge
Jersey Shore Challenge
Wednesday, Jan. 31
At Collins Arena, Brookdale Community College
Ranney (15-3, No. 1 at the Shore, No. 4 in N.J.) vs. Roselle Catholic (13-3, No. 1 in N.J.), 7:30 p.m.
Ticket info - Update, 9:23 a.m.: All remaining tickets will be sold at the door beginning at 3:30 p.m.. A portion of the proceeds collected Wednesday will be donated to the Joan Dancy and PALS Foundation, which benefits people and families battling ALS.
Ranney has been the No. 1 boys basketball team at the Shore from the very start of the season, but the Panthers have shown on a number of occasions they rather like the role of underdog.
It’s a good thing too, because that is what the Panthers will be Wednesday night at Collins Arena on the Campus of Brookdale Community College, the site of the first ever Jersey Shore Challenge basketball showcase.
On Wednesday night, Ranney will have a chance to stake its claim to the No. 1 ranking in the state by knocking off Roselle Catholic, the team that currently sits atop the NJ.com statewide rankings. Ranney enters the game ranked No. 4 in the state and by beating the No. 1 team, the Panthers could potentially leapfrog No. 2 Hudson Catholic and No. 3 Gill St. Bernard’s to take over the top spot.
Regardless how much season is left, how talented the roster is now or how much better it could be in one month or even one year, a program going from complete obscurity to the top spot in one of the most basketball-rich states in the country pound-for-pound would be a remarkable accomplishment both for the athletics program and for the group of players who made it happen.
Of course, Ranney – like any other team – would much rather be No. 1 at the end of March than at the end of January and those two achievements find themselves at odds heading into Wednesday. Ranney’s unofficial injury report includes two starters and three players on a team that would prefer to limit its rotation to six given the current roster.
Junior Scottie Lewis, a 6-foot-5 five-star recruit who has offers from the top programs in the country, is currently nursing a sprained ankle and has not practiced since sustaining the injury in a Ranney win over Point Pleasant Beach on Jan. 18. Lewis said Sunday he was unlikely to play, but would test the ankle out again on Tuesday to see if there is any improvement and, thus, a chance to play on a big regular-season stage.
Lewis has shown a feel for the big game this season, scoring 21 points to go with eight rebounds and eight assists in a win over the Patrick School at Brookdale on Jan. 6. He then scored 23 in a win over Mater Dei Prep and put up 27 in loss to Maryland power Mount St. Joseph at the Hoophall Classic.
MORE FROM THE SHORE CHALLENGE: Rumson basketball on display, RBC boys hoping to make statement
While Ranney coach Tahj Holden and his team had a chance to start preparing to play without Lewis for a stretch of games, an injury to junior guard Alex Klatsky blindsided them last week. The 6-3 guard is currently going through concussion protocol after suffering a head injury against Keansburg on Thursday of last week, according to his father, Brian. Klatsky has been a knockdown three-pointer shooter for the Panthers and has also proved himself to be a valuable defender against some top scoring options on strong teams.
Junior Mike Dettro came into the season looking at playing a handful of minutes here and there, but found himself getting significant time with the injury to Lewis and growing into the job nicely. Unfortunately, he went down Monday against Keyport with a broken clavicle and is likely to miss the remainder of the season.
With Dettro out and the availability of both Lewis and Klatsky very much in question heading into Wednesday, Ranney could be looking at a scenario in which it will have to start a player with no experience beyond the fourth quarters of Class B Central blowout games. Senior Kiran Shah stepped up on Monday with 19 points against a 2-12 Keyport team and will be a prime candidate to fill in should the Panthers need the help.
While the list of injuries paints a dire picture for Ranney on Wednesday, there is still plenty of reason to not only watch the action at Brookdale but to give the Panthers a punchers chance as well. In their first game without Lewis, they picked up an impressive win over a loaded Westtown, Pa. squad behind standout efforts from junior guard Bryan Antoine and senior center Savior Akuwovo.
Antoine could very well end up the best player on the court Wednesday. He is just as sought-after as Lewis by high-level college programs and has continued his march toward the Shore Conference’s all-time leading scoring mark by averaging 21.6 points through 18 games, including five 30-plus-point efforts and an all-tournament selection at the prestigious City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Fla.
In order for Ranney to have any shot on Wednesday, Antoine will need some scoring help to draw some of the defensive attention he is sure to see away from him. Akuwovo has delivered on that end of the floor all season long, particularly over the last six games, during which he has averaged 15.8 points. More than the offense, Akuwovo has been a stalwart on the defensive end and his team will need him to be on his game Wednesday against a big Lions front line.
Juniors Ahmadu Sarnor and Chris Autino are also big-game ready for Ranney, with Sarnor offering a potential backcourt scorer in the event that Lewis and Klatsky are out. Sarnor has played the role of distributor this year, but going back to last year, he scored 28 points in a loss to Tournament of Champions winner the Patrick School. Autino is a 6-7 center who can be a valuable asset on the defensive end for Ranney and has had plenty of experience in games like this one as a starter in each of his first two seasons.
Beyond what Ranney has to offer, Roselle Catholic boasts a lineup worth watching, including McDonald’s All-American and Asbury Park native Naz Reid. The 6-10 forward is heading to LSU next year, has risen to the occasion in big games this year and is undoubtedly motivated to play in his home county against another top-five team in the state.
In addition to returning home to play, Reid is only eight points away from 1,000 career points and will also be presented with his McDonald’s All-American jersey prior to the game.
Beyond Reid, Roselle Catholic has three other standouts for whom Ranney will have to account. Junior 6-5 guard Kahlil Whitney is another N.J. standout from the Class of 2019. According to Rivals.com, he is the No. 82 player in the class nationally and has nine scholarship offers, including from Kansas, Oregon, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Rutgers and St. John’s
Like Akuwovo, senior point guard Ithiel Horton landed at his current destination after transferring from St. Anthony after the school closed its doors for good after last school year due to financial woes. Horton is already committed to the University of Delaware and has shared the ball-handling duties with another talented junior, Josh Pierre-Louis, whose older brother, Nate, is a freshman at Temple after playing at Roselle Catholic last year.
Roselle Catholic’s run to the No. 1 spot in the rankings includes impressive wins over five ranked teams in N.J., most recently a 12-point win over the Patrick School and a 20-point win over rival and perennial Group IV favorite Linden. The Lions have been a more consistent team than they were a year ago, when they went down to the wire to beat Rumson-Fair Haven during the regular-season.
The two programs have met in recent years, with Roselle Catholic defeating Ranney, 69-44, in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public B quarterfinals two seasons ago. The Lions went on to win the section and lost to eventual T of C champion St. Anthony in the Non-Public B final.
Check back for a preview on the first two games of the double-header, pitting the Rumson-Fair Haven and Roselle Catholic girls against one another, followed by a rivalry game between the Rumson-Fair Haven boys and Red Bank Catholic.