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TOMS RIVER - Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine began their high school basketball careers with the reputation of high-fliers good for a few highlight-worthy dunks per game.

On Saturday night in the NJSIAA Non-Public B championship game, the two McDonald's All-Americans and their Ranney School teammates showed what is under the hood of a championship-caliber team. It is not always pretty, but against the best in the state, it sure works.

Antoine scored a team-high 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting and the Panthers turned in championship-clinching performance on the defensive end to beat defending Tournament of Champions winner Roselle Catholic, 56-50, and win the program's first ever group championship.

Photo by Paula Lopez
Photo by Paula Lopez

With the win, Ranney also moves on to play in the Tournament of Champions for the first time as the first Shore Conference team to qualify since 2013 and the first to do so out of Non-Public B since St. John Vianney in 1978.

The Panthers also punched their T of C ticket by vanquishing the team that ended their season in the same game one year ago, with the Lions nipping Ranney, 63-61, by erasing a seven-point deficit in the final 2:30.

"Just looking at the opposite end of the court and remembering being under there crying - I remember tearing up after missing the last shot," Antoine said, referencing last year's loss to Roselle Catholic in the Non-Public B final in Toms River. "We hated that feeling. We did not want that feeling again so we came out here and did what we needed to do."

Ranney was in a nearly-identical situation on Saturday night at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena, leading Roselle Catholic, 45-38 with 2:38 to go. The Lions pulled within four at 47-43 on a three-pointer by senior wing and Kentucky commit Kahlil Whitney.

With Lewis guarding him throughout the game, Whitney carried Roselle Catholic's offense with 26 points while no other Lions player scored more than six.

Antoine hit one of two free throws to stretch the lead back to five and after a Roselle Catholic miss, junior Phillip Wheeler scored as he was fouled to push the lead to 50-43. Antoine pulled down a defensive rebound on the next possession and coasted up the court for a layup to make it a nine-point game.

"I told Bryan before the game that I need Bryan Antoine back," said Lewis of his teammate, who has averaged only 17 points per game since a regular-season win over Roselle Catholic on Jan. 31. "He really hasn't been himself as far as putting the ball in the basket the last couple weeks. Everyone has been getting their share and that's a part of it too, but I told him today, I needed him to be on. I needed to focus on the defensive end and we needed him to lead us by scoring the ball."

Roselle Catholic got it down to five with a four-point possession, highlighted by a three-point play by senior Colby Rogers with 45 seconds left.

Senior Ahmadu Sarnor finished off the Ranney win with four consecutive free-throws to cap a 9-for-10 performance from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter. Sarnor finished with 15 points and seven rebounds - another big-game performance by Ranney's senior point guard.

"This is definitely a different feeling from last year," Sarnor said. "Coming out with the win this time is amazing. We are all really happy, but we're not done."

Ranney's celebration was subdued because of a scary incident involving Roselle Catholic senior point guard and UNLV commit Josh Pierre-Louis. After a Roselle Catholic offensive possession in the final minute, Pierre-Louis collapsed to the ground and had to be taken off the court in a stretcher. According to multiple sources near the scene and by Roselle Catholic basketball's Twitter account, he was being treated for a head injury and was conscious leaving the court.

"God bless Josh for playing through his wrist injury," Lewis said. "I just want to get to the hospital and check up on him."

Pierre-Louis suffered a wrist injury during the fourth quarter of Roselle Catholic's North Jersey Non-Public B championship win over Gill St. Bernard on Wednesday and did not return to that game, instead going to the hospital for x-rays.

"Me and Josh are good friends so I hate to see that happen to him," Antoine said. "He fought hard tonight - I was just happy to come out with a win."

Antoine had his own injury issue on Saturday, with a nagging right shoulder injuring that has been bothering him all season flaring up in the second quarter and again forcing him to the bench for four minutes of the third quarter.

"There was one game where I tweaked it and I was on the ground kind of holding my shoulder and Scottie came up to me and said, 'Don't show your emotion,'" Antoine said. "From that point on, I tried to do my best to not show it was bothering me. Sometimes it's too painful and I can't help it, but I'm lucky Ranney has a great athletic trainer and she (Neila Buday) has shown me some good stretches to do so I can loosen it up and get back out on the court."

Pierre-Louis played through the pain on Saturday night and despite having obvious issues shooting the ball (2-for-9 from the field, four points) he came up with three big steals in the fourth quarter, the first two of which he followed up with dunks in back-to-back possessions to cut Ranney's lead from 39-27 lead to 39-31. The 12-point advantage was the largest of the game for either team.

Lewis and junior Phillip Wheeler had a quiet offensive games but were both key cogs in the defensive effort. Lewis finished with eight points, six rebounds and six assists while guarding Whitney (11-for-24 from the field). Wheeler finished with just four points and six rebounds, but neutralized 6-11 Roselle Catholic junior Cliff Omoruyi, who also finished with four points and six boards before fouling out.

Senior Alex Klatsky scored only three points but he made his only shot attempt of the game at a critical juncture. He nailed a three-pointer out of the right corner to put Ranney ahead, 29-25.

Freshman Elijah Perkins did the same, hitting a three-pointer from the same spot to stretch Ranney's lead to 32-28. Perkins, who hit what proved to be the game-winning shot in Wednesday's 54-50 overtime win over Wildwood Catholic, finished with five points off the bench.

Roselle Catholic pulled within one point multiple times over the course of the first three quarters but the Lions' only lead of the game was 2-0. After Roselle Catholic cut Ranney's lead to 26-25, Perkins's three sparked a 13-2 run that carried into the first two possessions of the third quarter.

Ranney will now wait to find out its seed in the six-team Tournament of Champions, which begins with the quarterfinal round on Wednesday. As the No. 1 ranked team in the state the Panthers are expected to draw the top seed in the T of C, which awards the top two seeds with a bye to Friday's quarterfinal round.

The last Shore Conference team to reach the T of C quarterfinals was Raritan in 2004, which was also the last Shore Conference team to win a Tournament of Champions game.

Only one Shore Conference team - the 2002 Neptune squad led by Taquan Dean - has ever made it to a Tournament of Champions final and no team from the Shore has ever won it. After vanquishing last year's T of C champion in a battle of the top-ranked teams in the state, Ranney will enter next week as the favorite to do just that.

"We want to win two more games," Lewis said. "That's been our goal from the beginning of the season. We're excited we're going to the TOC but we're not going to be satisfied. We want to finish our four years off with a state championship and cement our legacy."


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