Gray Collegiate “3-peats” for State Title

By Thomas Grant Jr.

“It’s four quarters to a basketball game.”

That was the reaction of Gray Collegiate senior forward Braylhan Thomas to his team trailing 11-1 to Oceanside Collegiate in the first quarter of the Class 2A championship game at the Florence Center.

The War Eagles missed eight of their first nine shots. Despite the deficit, the S.C. Basketball Coaches Association Class 2A Player of the Year remained in a positive state.  

His calm demeanor helped the War Eagles weather the storm. Led by Thomas’ game-high 16 points and stifling team defense, Gray Collegiate pulled out the 44-40 victory.

“I keep saying it,” Gray Collegiate head coach Dion Bethea said. “We’re the best defensive team in the state. We switch everything. Our guys, they really get down and they guard you. I was super proud of them.”

Defeating the fellow charter school for the second straight year in the final earned a second straight “3-peat” for Gray Collegiate (30-6). Both schools will move up in classification next year with Gray Collegiate going up to Class 4A.

Gray Collegiate opened the game with a 1-0 lead on a free throw by Justin Pauling. Over the next 6 ½ minutes, the War Eagles missed eight straight field goal attempts while the Landsharks scored 11 unanswered points.

A steal and twisting layup by Thomas with 33 seconds left ended the dry spell for War Eagles. The Landsharks opened the second quarter with five straight points from Carson Jones to take their biggest lead at 16-3.

A bank shot 3-pointer by L.J. Britt with 5:20 left ignited a 12-0 run by Gray Collegiate. Pauling and Hunter McGraw followed with free throws, Britt hit his second 3-pointer and Thomas scored on a short jumper to bring the War Eagles to within a point.

Oceanside Collegiate held a 20-19 halftime lead.

“We looked up. We realized what the score was,” Thomas said. “Our team knew what it would take, so we started to lock in on defense. Especially when we came out at halftime. Our coach did a real good job in the locker room just telling us to take deep breaths, calm back in together and we went out hungry.”

The War Eagles finally regained the lead in the third quarter on two free throws by Treyvon Maddox. He finished with four points, all coming at the free-throw line.

Another 3-pointer by Jones put Oceanside Collegiate up again 23-21 only for Thomas to tie the game again with two free throws. There were three more ties before a Thomas breakaway dunk off a Britt steal with 33 seconds left gave Gray Collegiate a 32-30 lead at the end of the third quarter.

The War Eagles did not trail again. The fourth quarter opened with the first of two 3-pointers by Tyquan McDuffie to give Gray Collegiate its biggest lead at five points.

A 3-pointer by Tyquan McDuffie to open the fourth quarter gave the War Eagles their biggest lead at 35-30. Oceanside Collegiate closed to within a point before another McDuffie 3-pointer put the War Eagles up 38-34.

Jones answered again for the Landsharks with his third 3-pointer to bring them within a point. He led his team with 11 points. Pauling scored on a driving layup on the next possession to give Gray Collegiate a 42-37 lead with 1:23 left in the game.

A 3-pointer by Travis Stinckney, who had 10 points, brought the Landsharks to within 42-40 with a minute left. Gray Collegiate worked down the clock until Oceanside Collegiate entered the penalty with 14 seconds left.

Fittingly, it was Thomas who put the finishing touch on the title win with two free throws. Oceanside Collegiate missed its final two shots as time expired and Gray Collegiate celebrated its sixth straight title in school history.

“A lot of hard work,” Bethea said. “A lot of hard work and just proud. Just proud for the kids. We hung in there together and we ended up getting it done. So I’m proud of them.”

(Photos by Thomas Grant Jr.)