WEST LONG BRANCH - With his Ranney boys basketball team trailing early in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game Saturday night, Ranney senior Scottie Lewis came up with a steal that set the 6-foot-5 senior off on a breakaway toward a riled up Manasquan student section.

With his team in need on a change in momentum, no ordinary basket would do, so Lewis elevated for a two-handed, 360 dunk, looked down the floor at his teammates and pointed both fingers toward the ceiling of the OceanFirst Bank Arena.

The steal the dunk and the gesture delivered the message: no matter the challenge from Manasquan - and it was a challenge - this night would belong the Panthers.

Led by Lewis, Bryan Antoine and Ahmadu Sarnor, Ranney's senior-laden team outlasted a game Manasquan, 70-60, in front of a crowd of 4,105 at Monmouth University to capture its second straight Shore Conference Tournament championship.

Photo Gallery: Ranney vs. Manasquan by Paula Lopez

"We watched our rivals (Mater Dei Prep) win back-to-back years in this tournament and that motivated us pretty early on," Lewis said. "We felt like if we could have played better, it could have been three, maybe even four championships for us. At the end of the day, it just made us hungrier and made us realize we can't take anything for granted when you are trying to win a championship."

"Everybody was gunning for us this time around," Ranney coach Tahj Holden said. "It's one of those things where you play to win championship games and any time you have that opportunity, you've got to seize it. This year is this year, last year was last year and next year will be next year. Every one is tough."

Lewis's dunk was part of a 12-2 run that closed the first quarter and an 18-point first half for the Florida-bound wing. Lewis led Ranney with 27 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, five steals and four blocks and also named the game's Most Valuable Player.

Sarnor lived up to his big-game reputation by scoring 16 of his 18 points in the second half to go with three assists and five steals for the game. Sarnor was the MVP of last year's championship game and was particularly instrumental in Ranney's fast start to the third quarter. The 6-2 guard found Antoine for a three-pointer from the top of the key and followed with six straight points.

"It feels even better the second time," Sarnor said. "I just like to compete and my guys like to compete. When big games come up - championship games, ranked teams - we look to go out and play our best each and every time."

"What people don't see is in practice, Ahmadu is one of the hardest players to guard," Antoine said. "So I really know what he is capable of on the court. When Ahmadu goes on those 8-0, 10-0 runs, I'm not surprised because I know he can do that."

Antoine, the Shore Conference's all-time leading scoring, poured in 10 of his 17 points in the second half and shot an efficient 5-for-9 from the field and 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.

Manasquan stormed out of the gate Saturday with the first six points of the game and after Ranney came back with seven in a row, the Warriors answered with nine straight to establish a 15-7 lead.

Warriors senior Brad McCabe scored two of Manasquan's first three baskets, including a dunk to make it 6-0.

It was McCabe's three-point shooting, however, that gave Manasquan a chance to knock off the top seed. The 6-5 senior shot an unconscious 9-for-10 from beyond the three-point arc, 11-for-13 from the field and exploded for a career-high 33 points in the biggest game of his four-year career.

"They came out and scored six straight (points) on us, they hit some tough shots and they had the energy on their side," Lewis said. "We just didn't blink. We didn't let up and we did what needed to be done. They kind of put the ball in my hands and I had to do what my team expected me to do as a leader and a captain."

"With seven Division I players hunting him up and down the court, I thought Ben Roy did an awesome job of finding people," Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau said, referencing his freshman point guard. "Obviously Brad really shot the ball well, he was super aggressive and confident and that's what he has to do. I thought he had a couple of nice assists off the bounce, so that was impressive."

McCabe opened the second quarter with his third three to give Manasquan a 20-19 lead. Lewis came back with a basket in the post to put the Panthers ahead and Ranney made sure the Warriors never got another lead.

"Mansquan's a great team," Holden said. "They are well-coached, they execute their stuff. Brad had 33 tonight and that's kind of frustrating because I coached him a long time ago. I told to have a good game but not too good, but he didn't listen. He didn't listen back then either, so I wasn't surprised he played well."

Lewis scored Ranney's last 10 points of the first half and 12 of its 14 in the quarter to send the Panthers to the locker room ahead, 33-27.

"Late in the first quarter, we started to get some deflections and some steals," Antoine said. "Me and Scottie had back-to-back dunks and coaches kept talking about playing defense like we practice playing defense. It's just us playing hard - it's not gambling for steals."

"I thought the difference in the game was six breakaway dunks that we handed to them," Bilodeau said. "As ridiculous as that sounds, for the gameplan that was in place, I thought the kids did an outstanding job.

"We pushed the tempo, got some easy baskets, some rhythm threes. We had to zone them because of the size we want to play against the quickness of there bigs and I thought our kids did a super job. That being said, so did their team."

Sarnor and Antoine combined to push the Ranney lead to 46-33 midway through the third quarter but Manasquan fought back with a 9-0 run that carried into the fourth quarter and pulled the Warriors with four at 48-44.

The two teams traded blows during the early part of the fourth quarter, with senior Alex Galvan converting a three-point play to pull Manasquan within five, followed by a three-pointer by Sarnor, then a three by McCabe on the other end to cut Ranney's lead to 55-50.

It was at that point that Lewis and Sarnor carried Ranney to the finish line, with each player scoring on a drive to stretch the lead to nine. Lewis then hit one of two foul shots and delivered a dunk off a steal to push the lead to 62-50 with 1:29 left.

"I thought Sarnor, who is one of my favorite players, is everything I thought he was and then some," Bilodeau said. "He is tougher than a two-dollar steak. And I thought Scottie had a big night but he made some tough shots and some shots over guys, but that's what he does."

"They (Manasquan) are very good in transition so it was important for us to control the tempo of the game," Sarnor said. "We tried to hold the ball a little bit, make them come out and play us. They are going to get in transition, especially Brad. He likes to hit three-point shots in transition so we had to control the tempo, get a great shot, not a good shot, and dominate in the half court."

Galvan entered Saturday leading Manasquan with 18.7 points and 10.3 per game and Ranney kept him relatively in-check with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Manasquan won the battle on the boards, 35-33, but the Panthers did not allow the glass to become a factor in the game.

The 10-point margin of victory for Ranney is the smallest during its back-to-back title runs. The Panthers won every SCT game in 2017-18 by at least 16 points and defeated Mater Dei Prep, 52-28, in last year's championship game. Ranney won each of its first three games this year by at least 19 points and by an average of 34 points, but never led by more than 13 on Saturday.

Ranney joins Neptune, Manasquan, Hoffman, Lakewood, Christian Brothers Academy and Mater Dei Prep as the seventh team in the 83-year history of the tournament to win championships in consecutive years.

"It means a lot to do this again," Antoine said. "Me, Alex (Klatsky), Scottie and Chris (Autino) - we all started it here freshman year. There was a lot of hype around us and we kind of put Ranney on the map freshman and sophomore year. Junior year, we had to go out an achieve something and we won a Shore Conference Tournament. Now to come out here and win it back-to-back - it started with all four of us and it all took off from there."

The two SCT finalists will venture into the NJSIAA Tournament this week, Manasquan as the No. 1 seed in the Central Jersey Group II bracket and Ranney as the No. 2 seed and defending champion in South Jersey Non-Public B.

"You're not going to play anybody as good as them (in the state tournament) until you play them," Bilodeau said. "God willing, we might but (playing Ranney) should be rocket fuel for you going forward."

Ranney, meanwhile, will try to become the first boys team from the Shore Conference to win the Tournament of Champions - a goal the Panthers were close to reaching with a junior-heavy team in 2017-18.

Ranney reached the Non-Public B final and led nationally-ranked Roselle Catholic by seven points in the fourth quarter before the Lions rallied to break Ranney's heart, 63-61, on the way to the Tournament of Champions title.

"I remember being in (Toms River), watching my teammates crying," Lewis recalled about the loss to Roselle Catholic. "Ahmadu dropped to his knees right away. There were multiple cameras in our face, taking pictures of our tears. There is still a lot of anger and hatred built up from that moment. A lot of people wanted us to win but to all the people that wanted us to lose, we're coming for those people as well."

 

Box Score

Ranney 70, Manasquan 60

1 2 3 4 F
Manasquan (25-3) 17 10 15 18 60
Ranney (24-3) 19 14 15 22 70

Manasquan (60): Ben Roy 2 0-0 4, Kieran Flanagan 3 0-0 6, Alex Galvan 4 2-3 11, Xander Korolik 1 0-0 2, Brad McCabe 11 2-3 33, Casey Mulligan 1 0-1 2, Tim McEneny 1 0-0 2, Shayne Leddy 0 0-0 0, Jack Heenan 0 0-0 0, Quinn Galvin 0 0-0 0, Max O'Shaughnessy 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 4-7 60

Three-pointers: Galvan, McCabe 9

Ranney (70): Ahmadu Sarnor 6 4-7 18, Alex Klatsky 1 1-3 4, Chris Autino 1 0-0 2, Scottie Lewis 12 2-4 27, Bryan Antoine 5 4-4 17, Phillip Wheeler 0 2-2 2, Elijah Perkins 0 0-0 0, Mike Dettro 0 0-0 0, Brandon Klatsky 0 0-0 0, Nick Troccoli 0 0-0 0, Cole Redman 0 0-0 0, Saahil Patel 0 0-0 0. Totals: 25 13-20 70

Three-pointers: Sarnor 2, Klatsky, Antoine 3, Lewis

 

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