MIDDLETOWN - The entire Ranney boys basketball team left Kean University Sunday dejected following its first loss to a New Jersey opponent in 2018-19, but senior Bryan Antoine and junior Phillip Wheeler were especially disappointed with the performance.

On Wednesday night, in front of a capacity crowd at Collins Arena on the campus of Brookdale Community College, Antoine and Wheeler made the most of the fresh start and helped spark the Panthers to a landmark win.

Antoine scored 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting to go with six steals and Wheeler chipped in 10 points - eight in the second half - and 12 rebounds off the bench to highlight Ranney's 61-49 win over defending NJSIAA Tournament of Champions winner Roselle Catholic at the Jersey Shore Challenge.

Ranney senior Bryan Antoine. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Ranney senior Bryan Antoine. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

"Obviously, you want to win every game that you play but maybe losing to Gill helped us get ready for this game," Ranney coach Tahj Holden said. "We saw some things in our play that winning was masking. Then we did them on Sunday and we lost a game and it’s a lot easier to correct mistakes after you lose than after you win because the guys realize those mistakes cost them a game."

Roselle Catholic entered the game ranked No. 1 in the NJ.com State Top 20 and the third-ranked Panthers - ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - grabbed a first-quarter lead and never looked back.

Antoine shot 3-for-7 from the field in Sunday's 62-60 loss to Gill St. Bernard and his nine points marked the first time in his illustrious career that he failed to score at least 10 points in a game.

"I took it very hard," Antoine said of the loss on Sunday. "Because of the type of player that I am, I feel like I didn’t show up but immediately after that game, I went to the gym. After school the next day, I went to the gym to start preparing for today’s game."

On Wednesday night, Antoine opened up the game by hitting an off-balanced three-pointer within the first 10 seconds and never let up.

"To be honest, I didn’t know if I was going to make it because I wasn’t really established," Antoine said of his first shot. "I just kind of threw it up there. Then it went in and as soon as it went in, I was like, ‘Yeah. It’s going to be a good day.’”

"A lot of times he gets caught up thinking, ‘I gotta score’ but he just needs to play basketball," Holden said of Antoine. "Let the game come naturally and go out and have fun. Sometimes he forces it and takes it upon himself thinking he has to score 30 for us to win. Now that we have a full complement of guys around him, he doesn’t have to do that as much."

Antoine's 25 points Wednesday catapulted him past former Lacey star and current Brooklyn Nets assistant Chris Fleming for second place on the all-time Shore Conference career scoring list. Antoine currently has 2,253 points and is exactly 50 points away from breaking the current record of 2,302, held by Croydon Hall's Norm Caldwell.

Wheeler, meanwhile, missed the front-end of a 1-and-1 chance at the free-throw line with three seconds left and his team trailing 62-60 to Gill St. Bernard. The junior got off to a slow start on Wednesday, but turned it on late in the third quarter. Wheeler closed out his double-double with three fourth-quarter dunks, including a putback slam to stretch the lead to 61-44 with a little more than two minutes to go.

"I really had no emotions coming into this game," Wheeler said. "I just felt like I needed to play my game to show everybody what I got.

"Whether I come off the bench or start, I just love the feeling of getting on the court and doing what I do. I really wanted to prove myself tonight and I had to show out. It’s the biggest game I have had so far."

Ranney seized control of the game in the third quarter, turning a 35-32 lead into a 43-32 edge behind an 8-0 run. Antoine scored the first six of the run and senior Ahmadu Sarnor hit a floater in the lane to close it.

Roselle Catholic pulled within eight on a three-pointer by Colby Rogers early in the fourth and Ranney answered with an 11-2 run to put the game away. Wheeler's three dunks came during the burst and the other five points came on one of senior Alex Klatsky's two three-pointers in the game and a steal and dunk by Antoine.

Antoine and Sarnor carried Ranney to a 32-28 lead at halftime, with the senior duo combining for 27 of the team's 32 points. Sarnor scored 10 of his 12 before halftime and also handed out four assists in his third game of the season. He made his season debut with 12 points against Gill St. Bernard on Sunday.

Ranney's two losses this season came in Wheeler's first game after sitting for 30 days to honor the NJSIAA's transfer rule, while Sarnor, by NJSIAA rule, had to sit 16 games because he played in that many as an eighth-grader in Pennsylvania.

"We’re still a work in progress," Holden said. "Ahmadu has only been eligible for three games now. We are still working out the kinks on things like rotations, but I think we played hard, we defended, rebounded for the most part. I wasn’t happy with some of the second chances we gave up in the first half but we rectified that in the second half.

Senior Scottie Lewis also chipped in eight points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots for Ranney. The Florida commit drew the assignment of guarding Roselle Catholic 6-6 senior and Kentucky commit Kahlil Whitney in a matchup of McDonald's All-Americans. Whitney finished with 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting with Kentucky coach John Calipari sitting courtside.

"I feel like I'm a lot stronger than I look," Lewis said. "(Whitney) is strong and he is a good player but I have confidence in myself against anybody, no matter how big, strong, fast, whatever. Defense is more about your mentality - if you commit to playing good defense you can be good at it and with my athleticism and my desire, I feel like I can handle any assignment coach gives me."

Junior 6-11 center Cliff Omoruyi scored 13 of his 15 points in the first half but the Panthers were able to limit him on the glass in the second half. Senior point guard and UNLV commit Josh Pierre-Louis added 13 points for the Lions.

Roselle Catholic had defeated Ranney in the only four meetings between the programs, including last year's 63-61 Non-Public B final. Antoine scored 15 points in that game and missed two shots in the final minute with a chance to give Ranney the lead and another to tie the game.

"After we lost to them last year, we all had that feeling that we didn’t want that to happen again," Antoine said. "We also used that game last year as motivation to play even harder today.

"The past is the past. You have to move on from that and learn from those kind of games. After last year’s game, I really went back and tried to pick up on things I could have done better."


More From Shore Sports Network