NEW YORK — Upstairs at Mount St. Michael Academy in the Bronx, just off the stairwell, outside Room 3, Jacque Rivera was still going a mile a minute.
The MacDuffie (Granby, Mass.) School head coach and his NEPSAC AA program were 20 minutes removed from surviving Ranney School (Tinton Falls, N.J.), 79-75, downstairs in front of a charged-up, standing-room-only crowd at the Empire Invitational. Instead of coming down off the high, Rivera was still greeting family members and answering questions, sometimes simultaneously.
Finally, several questions deep, Rivera took a breath, and the topic came to Ranney, ranked No. 4 nationally by USA TODAY and less than 24 hours removed from coming out on the right side of another fight, 56-55, against Bergen Catholic.
SUPER 25 Week 6: Ranney falls to No. 9 after loss
Rivera was asked a question about the dynamic between MacDuffie and Ranney. One is a New England prep school with prestige, history, and a long line of Division I recruits on its side, the other an overnight sensation with two blue-chip recruits in tow. Rivera did not hesitate.
“We’re coming into this game telling our kids ‘We’ve been here, we’ve done this, we do this,’ said Rivera, whose own team played Saturday as well, then made a one-day round-trip from Massachusetts to the Bronx on Sunday. “For them, it’s ‘We have to play higher than we have.’
“We’re going to get their best game, because in the eyes of the public and the media, it’s an ‘up’ game, so they’re trying to prove themselves.”
Rivera implying that Ranney has not been here before is correct, and that is part of the fascination with this team. The Panthers were in high demand when showcase events began crafting their lineups months ago. That was certainly never the case at the Tinton Falls school before Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine arrived. With those two, not only is Ranney in high demand, but it is getting placed in huge matchups within said showcases.
Sunday afternoon was one such occasion. Ranney-MacDuffie was a 4 p.m. tip, right in the middle of the event, and right behind another New Jersey power, Roselle Catholic, which defeated Archbishop Stepinac (N.Y.), 70-60.
National rankings and having to play the day before aside, anyone paying attention knew that Ranney could be up against it vs. a team with a little more depth, and a little more size. The Panthers were going to have to find another gear to get back over the George Washington Bridge with its perfect season intact. They almost did.
Antoine’s 3-pointer from the left corner gave Ranney (10-1) a 75-74 lead, but Wake Forest commit Ismael Massoud hit two free throws down the other end. MacDuffie never trailed again, while escaping a clean Antoine late that would have given Ranney the lead.
Two games decided by five points. A loss against a team it won’t see again, a win against an in-state power most believe is the prohibitive favorite in Non-Public A.
The weekend can be classified as a mixed bag.
“Our ultimate goal, no offense to MacDuffie, is not to beat MacDuffie at the Empire Invitational,” Ranney head coach Tahj Holden said. “We want to win the Tournament of Champions. We want to win a state championship, Shore Conference championship. It’s frustrating to lose any game, but we still have games to play.
“We’ll go back and get to work tomorrow. Tomorrow’s a new day.”
“Losing puts a fire in our heart and a fire in our mind, but it’s about us going and performing the way we’re supposed to,” Lewis said. “That’s on us, our passion and our love for the game. If you don’t have that, there’s no way you can win.”