FORT MYERS, Fla. — New Jersey teams hit more often than they miss in the City of Palms Classic.
But the Ranney School of Tinton Falls missed late Monday night in the first round of the 45th annual high school basketball tournament, falling to McEachern of Powder Springs, Georgia, 77-57 at Florida SouthWestern State College’s Suncoast Credit Union Arena.
Of the eight Garden State programs to have appeared in the Classic, seven of them have winning records, and they have combined for a 57-28 mark. This doesn’t include Ranney, which fell to 2-1 after being outscored 23-4 in the second quarter.
The Jersey record is solid, especially considering that Jersey teams often are playing their season-openers at the Classic against national caliber opponents. McEachern, meanwhile, already has played eight games and has won them all.
Ranney’s dynamic junior duo of Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine pledged to further the profile of their program as a basketball school during the rest of the Classic. They set their sights on winning the consolation bracket, which would be no small feat in this field. Of the 16 teams in last year’s tournament, nine of them went on to win state championships, and five went on to finish second in their respective state tournaments. That does not include Montverde Academy, the national champion runner-up. This year’s field is sure to share that same potential.
“Coming down here, it’s going to help us put the program on the map,” said Lewis, a 6-foot-5 guard who is being recruited by Duke, Florida, Harvard, Kansas and Kentucky, among others.Duke head coach Mike White, Kentucky’s Tony Barbee, Duke’s Nate James, Harvard’s Brian Eskildsen, Rutgers’ Brandin Knight and Villanova’s Ashley Howard were among the coaches on hand.
Lewis scored 10 points. He missed a baseline jump shot with less than 10 seconds remaining. A teammate fed him the ball again. Lewis dribbled, did a spin move around a defender and then rose for a slam dunk for a highlight. He also had six rebounds and five assists.
Antoine scored a game-high 22 points, making 7-of-20 field goals and struggling from behind the 3-point line, making 2-of-9 attempts. He also had three rebounds and two assists.
“It’s great coming down here to play with some of the best teams in the country,” said the 6-5 Antoine, who is being recruited by Arizona, Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Rutgers and Villanova, among others.
Lewis and Antoine have been teammates since the seventh grade. This gives them a chemistry uncommon for elite players. Given that three of their wish-list schools overlap in Florida, Kansas and Kentucky, they sometimes talk about continuing to be teammates at the elite college level.
“Shhhhhhh,” Lewis said, smiling.
“They’re both different personalities and different athletes,” Ranney coach Tahj Holden said. “It would be interesting if the same school signed both of them.”
Lewis and Antoine each said they fed off one another, on and off the court.
“He pushes me academically and athletically, especially on the court,” Lewis said of Antoine. “We just push each other and try to make each other better.
“We’ve always wanted to come to City of Palms and represent our program.”
Lewis said he recognized Ranney did not have the name recognition of other City of Palms Classic stalwarts like Hudson Catholic, which returned for this year’s Classic after finishing last year with a 3-1 record or Montverde Academy of Florida, which has a 24-5 record in the Classic and has won three championships under former Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick coach Kevin Boyle.
Ranney, meanwhile, is known for its track and field program and lists equestrian rider Jessica Springsteen (daughter of Bruce Springsteen) as the only athlete under its ‘notable alumni” section in the tournament program.
“Maybe that’s why not everyone has heard of us,” Holden said. “We’re a small school. To have the opportunity to be invited to things like this has been phenomenal.”
Ranney, who played at the University of Maryland in 1999-2003, has guided the Panthers to a 44-9 record over his first two seasons and has them off to a 2-1 start this season.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Holden said. Ranney next plays Canterbury, a Fort Myers private school, at noon Tuesday.
“They’re going to be looking to prove that they’re better than what they showed today as well,” Holden said. “We’re just happy to have the opportunity to play more games.”
Lewis said he hoped to finish the Classic strong and to earn a return trip in 2018 for his senior season, just as senior guard Jahvon Quinerly did with Hudson Catholic, which lost in the quarterfinals of the Classic last year and finished in fifth place. Hudson Catholic won its first game on Monday and again will play in the quarterfinals.
“We would love to be in that category of that type of team that could come back here,” Lewis said.Follow David on Twitter Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter And like ZAGS on Facebook