Gray Collegiate wins program's sixth state title in last 2A dance

Posted 3/1/24

The Gray Collegiate War Eagles cemented their dynasty, winning their sixth 2A state title Friday after beating Oceanside.

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Gray Collegiate wins program's sixth state title in last 2A dance


The Gray Collegiate War Eagles cemented their dynasty, winning their sixth 2A state title Friday after beating Oceanside Collegiate 44-40 at the Florence Center. 

It was Gray’s last dance in the 2A class. With the team set to jump to 4A play next season, Gray finished on top and secured the program’s second boys basketball three-peat in eight years. 

“Obviously everything that's gone on both during the season and post-season, I tell you what man, it means everything,” head coach Dion Bethea said. “I'm so happy for all those kids. Just to get an opportunity to hold it up again. To have six of them, it's unbelievable what we've built over there and the work that we've put into it.”

Braylhan Thomas led the way with 16 points and six rebounds. TyQuan McDuffie and LJ Britt each had six points. 

“This is my fourth state championship. I won all four all four years of high school,” said Thomas, who is in his second year at Gray. “It was really personal for me to be able to go out with a win every year. That's just the best feeling you can have is being a winner.”

The War Eagles did not get off to a good start in this one, opening the game with 1-11 shooting from the floor. Gray had just three points after the first period, and that shooting slump continued into the second quarter. 

Gray went down 16-3 with five minutes left in the second quarter before hitting its second basket of the game. 

From this point though, Gray went on a run and made it a game again. The War Eagles went on a 12-0 run to pull the lead within one. 

“This is our second time, you know what I'm saying,” Thomas said. “Other than the five that we lost last year, this is our second time in it. So, everybody knows that feeling that you got to bring that dog out, that grind out of you, to win this game.”

The two teams exchanged baskets for the rest of the half to keep the margin the same heading into the break. The second half was just as competitive as the end of the second quarter with both teams getting their buckets but failing to stop the opponent on the other end. 

Unlike the first half, the War Eagles held the lead for most of the second. 

Gray took the advantage less than two minutes into the third quarter, but Oceanside responded. The War Eagles used the charity stripe to score their next seven points, but could not stop the Landsharks, who matched their free throws with field goals. 

 “They came out and they pushed us,” Bethea said. “I'm just glad we got it done.”

Gray and Oceanside sat deadlocked at 30 near the end of the third quarter, but Thomas gave his team the advantage heading into the fourth after scoring an emphatic breakaway dunk. 

The War Eagles went up multiple possessions in the fourth quarter for the first time in the game, but that was not enough to bury the Landsharks. McDuffie scored all six of his points at the start of this quarter, nailing two threes. 

Oceanside hit a few clutch threes down the stretch to stay in reach. The game got really close in the final three minutes when the Landsharks cut the game back to a single possession. 

Gray started playing stall ball down the stretch and went back up three after a beautiful inbound sequence. Thomas inbounded the ball to Justin Pailing who quickly slipped it back to Thomas, who drew the defender, and dumped it off to Darius Carr for the flush. 

The War Eagles got a stop on the following Oceanside possession, and Pailing hit a layup to increase the lead to five. Oceanside responded with a three though, creating a one-possession game with under 30 seconds. 

With the state title on the line, Thomas was fouled and nailed both of his free throws to reestablish a two-possession lead with not enough time left for a comeback, thus clinching the game for Gray. 

The War Eagles conclude their final 2A season on top. It was a turbulent one that saw the team have to deal with the competitive balance fallout. Gray did not play a region schedule, and they were forced to travel long distances to find opponents. 

With big changes coming to the program, head coach Dion Bethea will reflect and has not ruled out any possibilities regarding his future with the school. 

“Y'all stay tuned,” Bethea said. “It's a lot of opportunities out there. I'm going to get with my wife and my girls. I'm going to get with my agent and my inner circle, and I want to see what's next for Dion, and see what's next for Gray as well.”

Thomas, who is a senior, will play college ball at Georgia Southern with former Gray teammate Avante Parker. He said when he looks back at this season, he’ll remember his time with his teammates the most. 

“Just hanging out with them outside of games,” he said. “Chillin in the hotels, in the airports. Everybody just having a good vibe. Chillin with each other. That's the best part.” 

Gray Collegiate basketball, Oceanside basketball, SCHSL playoffs, Dion Bethea, Braylhan Thomas


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