How do you defend a 6-foot-5, 205-pound guard who can shoot, drive, pass, and rebound?
It’s a dilemma most of Princeton’s opponents haven’t been able to solve. The Tigers went 12-2 in nonconference play as guard T.J. Bray scored in double figures in every game he played but his first. And even though Princeton dropped its first three conference games, it wasn’t due to a lack of scoring from Bray, who tallied more than 60 points in the three losses.
“I think he’s tremendous,” Lion head coach Kyle Smith said. “He’s an all-around player.”
With the Light Blue men’s basketball team set to face Bray—who averages 17.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game—at Princeton on Friday evening, Smith said the problem posed by the versatile guard is one he has to think about a lot.
While Columbia has been able to shut down a few talented guards recently—notably, Cornell’s Nolan Cressler and Brown’s Sean McGonagill—Bray poses additional matchup problems, boasting a sizable edge in either height or agility over most players tasked with guarding him.
“If I have a mismatch, a smaller guard, I’ll be able to post up,” Bray said. “If they throw a bigger guy on me, I can get on the perimeter a little bit and move around.”
Smith added that Bray isn’t the only Princeton guard able to take advantage of a size mismatch. But he stands out.
The Wisconsin native leads the Ivy League in field goal percentage, shooting over 55 percent. Like his team, he more or less abandoned the two-point jumper in favor of the three this season. He’s been shooting a career-high 43 percent from long range. He has also been taking over 40 percent of his shots near the rim, a mark that leads the Princeton backcourt.
Bray said the changes were partly an adjustment to the graduation of dominant inside force and 2013 Ivy Player of the Year Ian Hummer. But shot selection wasn’t the only difference.
“I’ve become more of a leader on the court—I’m more of a focal point, if you will, of our offense,” Bray said. “I’m getting more touches and trying to do more things.”
Columbia has not won in Jadwin Gym since 1993—before some Tigers and Lions were born. Last year, the Light Blue came close, but Bray scored 17 points in Princeton’s six-point win.
If Columbia plans on making history by snapping that streak, it will need to find a way to stop Bray.