Getting to its first state championship wasn’t good enough for Gray Collegiate.
For the past two years, the expectation was for the War Eagles to win a title. On Friday, Gray Collegiate was able to do it with a 58-45 win against Carvers Bay in the Class 2A championship at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.
It was Gray Collegiate’s first state championship in any sport. The War Eagles lost in the Upper State championship to Keenan in 2017 but beat the Raiders last week to make it to the championship game.
“I dreamed about it last year,” Gray Collegiate coach Dion Bethea said. “This year. We had to get over the hump that was Keenan, and once we got over the hump, it was up to us to take the title.”
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For Carvers Bay, it represented the end of a historic season in which the team won its first Lower State title and made it to the state championship for the first time.
“They have a really good team. I just think our kids responded well. They played hard. I’m proud of what they accomplished. I just think we had a solid game plan going in, but the bottom line is we didn’t hit a couple of shots we needed to at the end and that hurt us,” Bears coach Jeff Mezzatesta said. “I think we fought to the end. We just couldn’t hit a couple of shots we needed to right there at the end.”
The win caps an emotional week for the Gray Collegiate community, which was dealing with the death of Tiquan Taylor. The freshman JV basketball and football player was shot on Sunday.
Players wore red T-shirts with #Longevity and Taylor’s picture on them.
Earlier in the day, Gray students participated in a “Cut your Hair, Cut the Violence” event prior to the school’s pep rally.
“We knew we could do it and pull it out for him, because that is what he would have wanted,” junior guard Tommy Bruner said.
Bruner led Gray Collegiate with 20 points, while Juwan Gary added 13 and Ty Rivers had 10. Mike Marsh led Gray with 15 rebounds as the War Eagles outrebounded Carvers Bay, 39-28.
Bruner stepped in at point guard when Khalil Robinson went down in the first round of the playoffs with a thumb injury. He averaged 19.4 points in five playoff games.
It was Bruner’s second state title. He won one as an eighth-grader with a Hammond squad that included, Seventh Woods, Xavier McDaniel and Chevez Goodwin.
Carvers Bay, which trailed 29-24 at halftime, took a 42-41 lead on Tyreek Reed’s 3-pointer with 19.6 seconds left in the third. Bruner hit a jumper to end the third.
Gray Collegiate held Carvers Bay, which was making its first state title appearance, to one field goal and three points in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t defend like we knew we could in the first half,” Bethea said. “We wanted to take some pride and play defense in the second half. The guys stepped up all across the board and did that.”
Dijon Goss led Carvers Bay with 17 points. Stephon Greene had 12 points and 12 rebounds.
“I’m proud of these kids. They made history, they did the things they were setting their goals to do since the summer. They came up one win shy of where they really, really, really wanted to be,” Mezzatesta said. “I couldn’t be prouder. I’m proud of our community. I mean, it was like playing in a home game tonight. Carvers Bay fans were just phenominal. I felt like Carvers Bay sold half the arena to be honest with you and that’s just a testament to our community and how much they love this team and how much they love this community.”