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Last year’s Jersey Shore Challenge at Brookdale Community College featured the top two teams in New Jersey, the top two teams in the Shore Conference and three McDonald’s All-Americans – all of whom shared the floor in the event’s marquee game in front of a jam-packed Robert Collins Arena that included, among others, Kentucky coach John Calipari.

For the third straight year, Ranney will take on perennial state power Roselle Catholic at Brookdale and this year’s matchup, which is scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m., will have a much different significance than last year’s showdown between the top two teams in the state – won by Ranney, 61-49.

Click here to view the Jersey Shore Challenge Official Game-day Program available FREE at tonight's games.

While last year’s Shore Challenge marked a fever pitch of Ranney’s four-year run of captivating the state and the Shore, this year’s showcase is a chance for the Panthers to take the first step in earning its reputation beyond the Class of 2019 headed by All-Americans Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine.

After winning the Tournament of Champions a season ago, Ranney has returned to mixed results with an inexperienced roster. The Panthers enter Tuesday 7-6 and coming off a loss to Hudson Catholic Saturday at the Hearts 2 Hands Showcase at Kean University. Ranney’s other losses are Middletown South, Burlington Township, Red Bank Regional and out-of-state opponents Wings Academy and Lawrence Woodmere Academy.

Sophomore Elijah Perkins has become the focal point of Ranney’s team after coming off the bench for the Panthers as a freshman last season. Sophomore Ryan Zan has been the team’s most consistent interior player on offense and those two carried the scoring effort over the first several games of the season while 6-foot-6 sophomore Charles Anyichie was still ineligible. Since Anyichie joined the lineup, Ranney is 5-3 with losses to Wings, Middletown South and Hudson Catholic.

Ranney sophomore Charles Anyichie. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

At its best, Ranney has shown plenty of depth, both in its balanced scoring in the lineup and in its production off the bench. Junior Nick Troccoli and sophomore Brandon Klatsky have each had their moments leading the team in scoring and catching fire from three-point range. At on point this season, Klatsky made 10 straight three-point attempts over multiple games, while Troccoli led Ranney with 23 points in a win over Mater Dei Prep – its most important win of the season to date.

Freshman Zack Davis, sophomore Taheen Braswell and freshman A.J. Gracia have all been contributors in the Ranney lineup as well.

Ranney is still waiting on 6-9 junior Kyle Rhoden to join the lineup, which he is not expected to do on Wednesday night. After transferring from Central Regional, Rhoden is now eligible to play but is still recovering from foot surgery he underwent in early December.

Roselle Catholic has had its own issues with key absences recently, with Niels Lane, Ahmad Robinson and Richie Greaves all hobbled with various afflictions. The Lions, however, still boast plenty of top-level talent, led by 6-10 senior Cliff Omoruyi and Xavier commit C.J. Wilcher. Sophomore Corey Floyd Jr. one of the state's top sophomores and freshman Simeon Wilcher has also come on strong this season, as he showed in winning the game MVP award in Roselle Catholic’s 45-43 win over Manasquan on Jan. 11.

There won’t be any McDonald’s All-Americans on the floor, but Wednesday’s main event offers up a chance to see one of the country’s best uncommitted recruits from the Class of 2020 (Omoruyi has narrowed his choices down to Kentucky, Auburn, Rutgers, Arizona State and UConn) as well as the chance to see if Ranney can spark the beginning of a run back to the top of the Shore Conference.

With no seniors on its roster, Ranney might be a year away from returning to championship form but Wednesday’s showdown vs. a Roselle Catholic team it had five battles with during the Antoine-Lewis Era is a great place to start.

Here is a look at the first two games of the Jersey Shore Challenge.

Wall (12-4) vs. Howell (3-10), 5:45 p.m.

This might appear a mismatch on paper, with Wall entering as the No. 7 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and Howell a three-win team that has graduated a ton of production over the past two years.

While the game could certainly play out in that manner, the Rebels have had some moments this season that suggest it won’t be quite that easy for the Wall.

Among Wall’s seven losses was a 67-62 loss to Christian Brothers Academy in which the Rebels held a nine-point lead in the second half, only to give up the lead late in the fourth quarter against one of the Shore’s most tradition-rich programs.

Howell has been trying to bottle the first 24 minutes of that CBA ever since and doing so with roster that has relied increasingly on underclass talent. While seniors Cooper Vogel, Matt Sgroi and Chris Acampora still play key roles on the team, sophomores Abdull Al-Shrouf, Joe Dupuis and Dylan McVeigh have become more and more prominent in Howell’s offense as the season has progressed.

Wall sophomore Colin Ackerman. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

On the other side, Wall boasts one of the Shore’s tougher defensive units and the Crimson Knights have recently started to shoot the ball the way they hoped they would at the start of the season. Wall is on a four-game winning streak and after senior Quinn Calabrese caught fire to lead the way in the first three of those wins, the Knights got at least eight points from all five starters – Calabrese, junior Pat Lacey, junior Logan Peters, senior Mike Caputo and sophomore Colin Ackerman – in Monday’s 70-47 win over Middletown North.

Wall also enters Wednesday unbeaten in Class B North play and while Wednesday’s game won’t have any bearing on the division race or Wall’s NJSIAA Tournament seeding, the Crimson Knights will be trying to stay sharp as they chance consecutive championships in both Class B North and the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III section.

Rumson-Fair Haven (9-5) vs. Raritan (6-6), 4 p.m.

The first game of Wednesday evening at Brookdale will be a Shore Conference Class A Central divisional showdown. Rumson and Raritan have had their share of battles over the past decade, most notably the 2011 Shore Conference Tournament Championship game, which Raritan won at Monmouth University.

That game was significant because it was the first time in seven years the championship game featured two public school teams. Coincidentally, it has currently been seven years since two public school programs met in the SCT Final and with St. John Vianney currently the highest-ranked non-public team in the current Shore Sports Network Top 10 at No. 8, that drought again looks like it will end at six games.

While Rumson and Raritan don’t currently appear to be contenders to make that SCT Final, both teams currently appear to be trending up. Rumson is coming off a 40-30 loss at No. 1 Manasquan Monday in which the Bulldogs played the Warriors closer than any Shore Conference opponent has this season.

In order to stay close with the No. 1 team at the Shore – which routed Rumson, 87-46, in the first meeting of the season – Rumson employed the stall tactic on offense at several points, including holding the ball for the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter. It got the Bulldogs to within 30-28 of Manasquan with 55 seconds left, but the host Warriors hit 10-of-10 foul shots in the final minute to deny the upset bid.

Rumson senior Jack Carroll. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Rumson entered the season wondering how it would make up for the loss of First-Team All-Shore bruiser Ian O’Connor and second-leading scorer Jackson McCarthy. The answer has been a 10-man rotation deployed in shifts, with the starting collecting the majority of the minutes. Sophomore Geoff Schroeder and senior Jack Carroll have been the most consistent producers for Rumson, but senior Hunter Reid, senior Shane Shovelin and sophomore Scott Gyimesi have all had their moments on offense while senior Drew Frankel has been a key ball-handler, facilitator and defender.

Countering Rumson will be a Raritan team that orchestrated a four-game winning streak before dropping consecutive games to Manasquan and No. 5 Holmdel – teams that are a combined 28-3. The Rockets’ improved to 6-4 with a come-from-behind win at St. Rose in which Matt Agar scored just before the buzzer to win the game, 43-43.

Agar is part of a youth movement in the Raritan program, but the Rockets still have some impact remaining from the senior class. After watching his older brother, Scottie Lewis, star on this stage last season, senior Jordan Smith will have his turn to step on the floor as Raritan’s top scoring and rebounding threat. Luke Davies, Connor Smith and Liam Callahan have also been senior leaders for the Rockets.

Sophomore Justin Rivera has come on strong for Raritan as a top scoring option over the last two weeks. Sophomore Jason Trotta and freshman Jack Coleman are also key contributors for Raritan.

 

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