TOMS RIVER - Ranney may be the defending Shore Conference Boys Basketball Tournament champions but the Panthers found out Sunday that no opponent of theirs from here on out is interested in treating them like royalty.

The No. 1 seed in the tournament and the top-ranked team in New Jersey found an extra gear in the third quarter to pull away with a 72-53 win over No. 8 Middletown South Sunday to reach the SCT semifinals for the third straight year, but not before the Eagles made it to halftime still within sight of the team that overwhelmed the SCT field a year ago.

"Last year, we were the number one seed, but this was a new experience and I think we were still kind of a feel-good story for a lot of people," Ranney coach Tahj Holden said. "We were also motivated by the defending champion on the other side of the bracket (Mater Dei Prep) last year and this year, we are that defending champion, so I think teams are coming after us even harder. It's nothing new for us but it does make the mindset a little different going into these games."

PHOTO GALLERY: Ranney vs. Middletown South by Ray Richardson

Middletown South was within 24-19 vs. Ranney past the midway point of the second quarter and jogged to the halftime locker room trailing 32-22.

The Panthers put the game away with a 26-10 third-quarter outburst, led by junior Phillip Wheeler and seniors Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis.

Wheeler scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half, including eight in that third quarter. He also pulled in 13 rebounds to head up a dominant performance by Ranney on the glass.

Lewis pitched in 18 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three blocks for Ranney and scored six points in the third after leading his team with eight first-half points. The Florida-bound guard also provided the highlight of the game when he blocked a shot on one end, picked up the ball, dribbled the length of the floor while weaving through the defense, and took off for a one-handed slam. That sequence gave Ranney a 46-28 with 3:29 left in the third.

Antoine scored 10 his 13 points in the third quarter before exiting with a right shoulder injury in the fourth. According to Ranney coach Tahj Holden, Antoine has been playing through right shoulder pain all season long and Sunday was not the first time he aggravated the injury.

Antoine also injured his left foot in a loss vs. Montverde Academy on Feb. 8 so the Villanova commit will benefit from the three days off before Ranney's next game - Thursday against No. 4 Freehold Township at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena.

Senior Ahmadu Sarnor scored all nine of his points in the first half and senior Chris Autino chipped in eight points and nine rebounds in the win.

Ranney got by a pesky Middletown South team with 72 points on the board despite shooting a paltry 0-for-17 from beyond the three-point arc.

"For the first time this year, we are starting to see some junk defenses, which the guys really aren't used to seeing against the competition we have played," Holden said. "Teams are going to try to throw some different looks to try to confuse us and I think Middletown South did a good job of that, especially early. They came out in a diamond-and-one against Bryan and some of our guys were looking back like, 'What do we do against this?'"

Senior Jack Sheridan led Middletown South with 16 points while senior Danny Mitchinson scored eight of his 11 in the first quarter. Sophomore Luke Albrecht added 10 points and junior James Anderson netted nine on three three-pointers.

Middletown South missed its first eight three-point tries and finished 9-for-30 from long distance.

 

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