As the Princeton University men’s basketball team opened its season last month, T.J. Bray cut a forlorn figure.
The senior captain and star guard was sidelined due to a fractured hand suffered during the preseason and sat grim-faced on the bench wearing a cast.
Despite being out of action, Bray was able to stay sharp as he recovered from the injury. “I did a lot of conditioning with our strength and conditioning coach when I had my cast on,” said Bray.
“I got my cast off a couple of Wednesdays ago and I was able to start slowly doing things then. I have probably been playing 1-on-0 for about a week now. In terms of live stuff, it has been less than a week. I put a lot of time in over the summer so I didn’t lose too much of that.”
Bray returned to action for limited duty in a 70-56 win over Rice on November 23 and then showed a hot hand three days later in a 71-66 victory over visiting George Mason. The 6’5, 207-pound Bray hit on 7-of-10 shots for a team-high 18 points.
“It was obviously one of my better games as a player here,” said Bray, a native of New Berlin, Wisc. who passed for a career-high 10 assists in the victory over the Patriots and had six rebounds and no turnovers in the win as he achieved his first career double-double.
“My teammates were great too, they were knocking down shots which makes my job easy. I know if I throw it to them, they are going to catch it and make a good play. They help me out so much.”
Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson made no bones about how much it helps the Tigers to have Bray back on the court. “I thought he was just terrific,” said Henderson of Bray, who scored 15 points and had a career-high nine rebounds in a 66-53 win at Bucknell last Saturday and was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week.
“Once again he had a line that I would have dreamed of having as a player here. I always wanted to have lots of assists and no turnovers. This is a helluva of a line including the last shot to put us up four which I thought was just huge. We missed T.J. in our first few games and I am really happy to have him back.”
In assessing Bray’s strengths, Henderson pointed to his versatility. “T.J. is taking the ball out of bounds; he has got energy to play another half or two,” said Henderson, whose team improved to 5-1 with the win over Bucknell and will look to extend a four-game winning streak when it hosts Fairleigh Dickinson on December 7.
“He is coming up with huge rebounds, he is telling everybody what to do. He makes a huge shot going to his right off the glass and he is a lefty. He just does a little bit of everything and I am glad he is on our team.”
Bray’s court vision is possibly his best attribute, in Henderson’s opinion. “He sees the game, he sees things,” said Henderson. “I don’t think you have to teach somebody that, I think you just show them what to look for.”
Henderson liked what he saw from his team collectively as it held off a George Mason charge that saw the visitors tie the game at 66-66 after trailing 40-23 at halftime. “I am never comfortable with a lead, I knew they were going to come at us,” said Henderson, who got offensive balance against the Patriots as Ben Hazel scored 14 points with Hans Brase adding 12 and Denton Koon chipping in 10.
“They just started going to the rim. I think with the way the games are called now, you have got to be prepared for that. We got into some foul trouble with Hans and all of a sudden the lead starts to chip away. I really liked that we maintained some aggressiveness. One team becomes very aggressive and the other team has to match that aggressiveness and I thought we did that nicely at the end of the game, including making a huge couple of stops there defensively.”
Bray, for his part, sensed that Princeton could outfight George Mason in crunch time.
“I have played in enough games here that it has happened before,” said Bray. “It was nice that we were able to come out on top. I knew that we had to keep battling and that’s what we did. We were able to get some nice buckets inside. Coach drew up some great plays. If we just kept battling, I knew we would be on the right side of things at the end of the game.”