TOMS RIVER, N.J. – The key sequence of last season’s NJSIAA Non-Public B final has been well-documented.
Naz Reid blocks a shot in a tie game, then races down the floor to convert an alley-oop from Ithiel Thorton with 6.3 seconds to play.
The sequence that followed has gotten decidedly less play. Ranney missed a floater in the lane, missed the follow attempt, and as the buzzer sounded, multiple players were reduced to tears and they crumpled to the floor.
On Saturday night, 364 days after that soul-crusher ended Ranney’s season, the Panthers got over the hump this time, leading wire-to-wire to defeat Roselle Catholic, 56-50, to claim their first Non-Public B crown in front of a standing-room only crowd at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena on the campus of Toms River High School North.
Bryan Antoine scored 21 points and pulled down five rebounds in what was often a defensive-minded game played in the mud. Afterwards, the McDonald’s All-American stood outside the visiting locker room and fielded a question about how gratifying the win was based on the heartbreak of last season. As he considered his answer, his eyes focused on the far end of the building and the side of the floor where last season ended.
“Just looking in that direction, that’s where I was, under the basket crying after I missed the game-winning shot,” said Antoine, who shot 8-for-16 in 28 minutes. “I remember tearing up, I remember the whole team tearing up. The days leading up to this game, we used that as momentum.
“We hated that feeling, we didn’t want to feel that again, so we came out here and did our thing.”
The game ended on a somber note when Roselle Catholic guard Josh Pierre-Louis appeared to take an elbow to the head. He stayed down on the floor for several minutes before a stretcher was brought out. Lions head coach Dave Boff told reporters that Pierre-Louis suffered a concussion. The UNLV commit played despite suffering broken bones in his right hand on Wednesday in the Non-Public North B final against Gill St. Bernard’s.
Saturday night featured three McDonald’s All-Americans. Aside from Antoine, Scottie Lewis had an under-the-radar strong night, finishing with 8 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists, while being asked to guard the third McDonald’s guy, Kahlil Whitney, much of the time.
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Ranney then got consecutive stops, turning those into fastbreak buckets each time, first from Phil Wheeler, plus one, then from Antoine, whose layup gave the Panthers a 52-43 lead with 1:07 left.
“We’ve shown throughout the year that we’re capable of winning multiple ways,” Ranney head coach Tahj Holden said. “We can score 80, 90 points, or we can come out, defend and grind it out.”
“Early in the season, a game like that, we probably don’t win because we weren’t capable of grinding it out yet. We got better and better every day in practice, and it showed today.”
The numbers support Holden’s belief Ranney can grind out a win on defense. Whitney got his 26 points, but no one else had a good night. Pierre-Louishad just 4 points, while Wheeler did an excellent job defensively on Cliff Omoruyi, holding the four-star 6-foot-11 junior to just 4 points and 6 rebounds before fouling out. Roselle Catholic shot just 35.1 percent from the floor and 20.8 percent from deep for the night.
When Ranney opens its TOC on Friday in a semifinal, it will do so as a prohibitive favorite to win not only on Friday, but on Sunday, too. A win on Friday will make it just the second Shore Conference program to advance to a TOC final. No Shore team has ever won a TOC, which has been contested since 1989.