Before the NJSIAA Non-Public B championship on March 9, Scottie Lewis got together with Bryan Antoine in the locker room.
The Ranney School seniors, the duo who built the Tinton Falls school into a New Jersey power, were about to play the biggest boys’ basketball game of their careers.
The Panthers were minutes away from battling Roselle Catholic High School at the RWJ Barnabas Health Arena in Toms River. The winner would advance to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.
Lewis had a message of tough love for his teammate. He felt Antoine, the Shore Conference’s all-time leading scorer, was not playing his best basketball in recent weeks.
“I told him, ‘I need Bryan Antoine back,'” Lewis said.
Antoine hugged Lewis and said, “I got you.”
A little over two hours later, Antoine was answering postgame questions with a smile on his face. Lewis trotted over and kissed him on the side of his head.
Before a packed a house, Antoine became Bryan Antoine again. He scored 21 points and led the Ranney School to a 56-50 victory over Roselle Catholic. The senior also sparked the Panthers to their first state group title and Tournament of Champions appearance.
“We’ve been motivating each other for four years,” Lewis said.
“It was a big confidence booster,” Antoine added.
Roselle Catholic has a lot of big, athletic players who crowd the paint, making it difficult for Lewis, a long, rangy forward, to dribble into the lane and make things happen. And on March 9, the Lions came out in a 2-1-2 zone defense, which made it even harder for Lewis to penetrate.
This put the onus on Antoine to beat the Lions over the top, and he did. The senior drilled a three pointer from the left wing on Ranney’s first possession. He scored 11 points in the first half to lead all scorers, staking Ranney to a 19-12 halftime lead.
Then in the second half, as Ranney pulled away, Antoine sank free throws and dunked on a couple fast breaks.
He did all that despite exacerbating a right shoulder injury. In the second quarter, Antoine was racing for a loose ball when he tripped onto the court, landing hard on his sore shoulder.
But his face remained stoic. He was not going to let Union County school know it was bothering him. Antoine has been dealing with the injury all season now, and he has developed a good poker face.
Lewis helped him with that, too. During a game earlier in the season, Antoine made an and-one play and winced on the floor.
“Scottie came over and said, ‘Don’t show any emotion,'” Antoine said. “After that I tried not to grasp it or do any of that.”
Antoine was Antoine. But with Lewis limited, the other Panthers had to step up.
Senior Ahmadu Sarnor, Ranney’s physical point guard, scored 15 points, nine on free throws. Fellow senior Alex Klatsky swished a corner three in the third quarter to break a Lions run. Freshman Elijah Perkins did the same thing about a minute later.
Ranney lost to Roselle Catholic, 63-61, in the Non-Public B state championship game last winter. The Lions also went on to win the 2018 Tournament of Champions state title. But this winter, the Panthers had more talent and chemistry around Lewis and Antoine.
“When everybody’s chipping in, it makes it easier for all of us,” Sarnor said.
Ranney is two victories away from winning the first Tournament of Champions state title in school history. The Panthers, the No. 1 seed in the T of C, will open the tournament with a semifinal game on March 15 in Toms River. They will play the winner of the first round game between Moorestown High School and Haddonfield Memorial High School.
The T of C championship game is set for March 17 at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
“We’re extremely excited,” Lewis said.