Gray Collegiate boys basketball reach 8th straight semifinal

By Thomas Grant Jr.

Since becoming eligible for post-season play in 2016, the Gray Collegiate Academy boys’ basketball has made state semifinal appearances an annual event.

Monday night at home, it overcame an unconventional strategy by Fox Creek to win 31-23 and earn an eighth straight trip to the Final Four.

Braylhan Thomas had 10 points and was the lone player in double figures on either team. The contest took nearly 70 minutes in real time to complete as the Predators played at a methodically slowed-down pace to limit the possessions for Gray Collegiate.

The game was tied at 5-5 after the first quarter. As the War Eagles capitalized off their limited possessions to take a 19-16 halftime lead, Fox Creek stayed close behind point guard Justin Vining who finished with nine points.

Gray Collegiate’s defense held Fox Creek scoreless through the first 11 minutes of the second half.  A 3-point play by Ellis Graham, who along with Thomas was selected to play in the Carolinas Classic on March 23 in Wilmington, N.C., gave the War Eagles their biggest lead at 11 points.

“They played a little stall ball to slow us down,” said Gray Collegiate Academy head coach Dion Bethea, who afterward reiterated his support for a shot clock in South Carolina High School League basketball. “But, at the end of the day, the guys held their composure, and we ended up…getting past them. They’re a good team and the guys defended well.”

This was the lowest point total in program history scoring by Gray Collegiate. It surpassed the previous mark scored in a 61-34 loss to Sunrise Christian Academy Star on Dec. 3, 2016.

The War Eagles (29-6) will now meet old rival W.J. Keenan (14-16) in the Class 2A Upper State final at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Florence Civic Center in Florence. The Raiders defeated Strom Thurmond 55-31 on Monday.

It’s the fourth postseason meeting between the two Region 4-2A rivals. Gray Collegiate is 2-1, including last year’s 72-66 victory in Greenville.

Since then, the War Eagles and Raiders have not played each other. W.J. Keenan joined its fellow region schools in forfeiting any scheduled games against Gray Collegiate as a protest to what they believe is the unfair advantage the West Columbia school enjoys in obtaining transfers from outside its zoned area.

As Gray Collegiate prepares to move up to Class 4A next year, it has taken the controversy “personally” and is using it as a rallying cry during this final playoff run in Class 2A.

“This is our last year in 2A, and we want to make sure we leave out the right way,” Bethea said. “We always send our seniors out the right way. We want to make sure this team and this program leave out the right way.”

The defending Class 2A girls’ basketball champion Lady War Eagles will look to join their male counterparts in Florence on Tuesday. They play host to Silver Bluff in the third round at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Photo by Thomas Grant Jr. – Gray Collegiate Academy’s Braylhan Thomas goes up for the putback.