By Rich Fisher | Correspondent
Mater Dei Prep boys’ basketball coach Ben Gamble has taken teams to the Shore Conference Tournament championship game all three seasons he has been at the helm.
The Seraphs won the first two – which were also the first two in school history – but came up short by a wide margin in No. 3.
Photo Gallery: Mater Dei Prep in Shore Conference Tournament
Despite the fact that the Middletown high school had made just one finals appearance in 1984 before he arrived, Gamble was taking no solace in the fact it has never missed the title game under his direction. Somehow it didn’t seem all that big of a deal after the second-seeded Seraphs dropped a 52-28 decision to top-seeded Ranney at OceanFirst Bank Center on the campus of Monmouth University Feb. 24.
“When I’m in the locker room getting on them about today’s performance, I didn’t remember that I won the last two years and that we got here three in a row,” Gamble said outside the lockerroom after a 15-minute post-game talk with his team. “That kind of got thrown out of the window. Maybe when I get done coaching, I’ll look back and say, ‘That’s a nice accomplishment,’ but that’s not my focus right now.”
Mater Dei (22-4) was never in the game as the Panthers (22-4) ran to leads of 10-0, 14-3, 22-7 and 32-10 at halftime. Entering the break, the Seraphs had made just 1 of 12 from 3-point range and 4 of 28 (14.3 percent) overall. Mater Dei had committed three turnovers while forcing 10, but that was counteracted by Mater Dei’s 24-9 rebounding advantage.
Things did not get much better in the second half, although three-year veteran Kenny Jones tried to get his team back in it. Jones scored six points in an 8-2 spurt to start the third quarter and Mater Dei had a chance to get closer before turning it over. Ranney maintained a 15-point lead after three quarters and held the Seraphs to just 2 fourth-quarter points.
“We missed a couple of trail lay-ups where we could have gotten it to 14,” Gamble said, “and the next thing you know, we take a bad shot or make a bad pass or don’t have strong hands. The ball will go in the other direction. There was just no poise today.”
Jones was Mater Dei’s only double figure scorer, getting all 10 of his points in the third quarter. The Seraphs shot 21.2 percent (11-for-52) for the game and 2-for-22 from 3-point range. They were out-rebounded 41-20.
It was the first SCT title for Ranney, which features two of the nation’s top high school players in Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis. The Panthers beat Mater Dei in both regular-season meetings, but the Seraphs nearly won the second meeting before dropping a 65-61 decision.
“This was something I didn’t expect to happen because we played them pretty good the last few games,” Gamble said.