The Glenwood boys basketball team asked for a shot at redemption, and that’s all it needed to win its first AISA 3A State Championship since 2017.

The Gators lost both of their regular-season matches with rival Lee-Scott Academy, and they split a pair of in-season matches with Macon East Academy before losing a rematch with them in the Region Tournament, 47-45.

But Glenwood won when it mattered most. It beat Lee-Scott by one point in the Final Four, and junior forward Brandon McCraine knocked down a buzzer beater to return the favor on Macon East by the same margin it was previously defeated by.

“I’m still in disbelief that the shot went in… The Final Four and the Championship game is as locked in as my boys have been all year,” said head coach Dusty Perdue. “They never gave up, even when we got down by seven in the championship game. It was two heavyweight fighters punching back and forth, and we were lucky enough to get the ball last.”

That’s only after Glenwood beat Springwood in the Region Tournament 58-57 to clinch an Elite 8 appearance at the Crampton Bowl in Montgomery, where Glenwood was able to slow down the game and use its post presence to hold each of its opponents under 40 points.

Overcoming its rivals in the playoffs meant a change in strategy to utilize its size advantage that Perdue said Glenwood has had all season.  With brothers Mason and Brandon McCraine standing around 6-foot-5 and senior forward Lukas Holman at 6-foot-4, the Gators knew the venue would allow them to force other teams to play to Glenwood’s strength.

“Playing at the Cramton Bowl, the court goes from 84 to 94 feet, so it’s a very long court, and it’s harder for those teams like Lee-Scott to get on a run,” Holman said. “That’s what they love to do. That’s how they wear you down. Coming into that game, we knew if we could get back on defense and make them run a half-court offense, we could win that game. It was also us not having to rush our offense and do what we needed to do.”

After the emotional roller-coaster of a long football season ending in a State Championship loss to Lee-Scott, losing nine basketball players from last season, and playing an arduous 34-game schedule, it all came down to Brandon McCraine.

And he had no idea he was getting the ball.

With 3.8 seconds on the clock, Perdue lined his boys up in a box set, and Macon East responded with a timeout to adjust.

That didn’t bother Perdue. He lined up his team out in the same formation as before, but it was followed by confusion from his team, so he answered with a timeout of his own. He then directed them back out with the exact same scheme as originally planned.

The play was designed for Brandon’s brother, sophomore Mason McCraine, to get the ball. When two Macon East players locked in on him, that left Brandon one-on-one. Holman wisely spotted Brandon breaking to the basket and hit him with a bounce pass, and then, as Perdue put it, “the rest is an athletic player making a play.”

Brandon drove to the goal, Macon East kept some space in order not to foul, and he went up. The ball rolled around the rim, the gym fell silent and the ball fell through the rim to a roaring crowd of orange.

“I was kind of lost for words. I really didn’t know what was happening or what was going on, but it felt great,” Brandon said.

It was the team’s motto all season: “Why not us?” Everyone else might have been shocked, but Glenwood knew all along that they were as capable as anyone – it was all a matter of coming together at the right time.

According to Holman, the Gators started the season with little respect from opponents. They finished second in its region in the regular season and third out of four in the region tournament, but it’s them who hoisted the trophy in the Cramton Bowl.

“None of us were basketball players. We were just good athletes, and that’s what got us there,” Brandon said.

But with just a 10-man roster and only three seniors, it took more than coming together on the court to make a championship team. It took perseverance, trust and determination, and all of that came to fruition when Holman scratched the game plan, trusted his eyes and hit his teammate in stride.

“You put a bunch of athletes together, they fight. They might fight each other, and that’s okay because when it’s cuttin’ time, there’s no quit in them,” Perdue said. “That’s what being a competitor and an athlete is all about is you don’t quit. They didn’t quit, and we found a way to beat our two nemesis’ in the Final Four and the State Championship. The rest is history, and now we get to celebrate all the accolades of that.”

For Perdue, that means celebrating his fourth State Championship as the Glenwood boys basketball coach. For Holman, that means ending his high school basketball career on a high note, and now him, Brandon and three of the other basketball players will aim to go to their third State Championship in the academic year on the baseball field.