For the first time in almost a year, The Citadel’s C.J. Bray played in an organized basketball game Monday night.
Bray, a redshirt sophomore from James Island, scored nine points with three rebounds in 14 minutes of a 109-64 rout of NAIA squad Montreat before 693 spectators at McAlister Field House.
The stat line was modest, but the eventual impact of Bray’s return could be big for the Bulldogs (3-4), who labored through the first six games with just nine healthy players. At 6-7 and 238 pounds, Bray is The Citadel’s biggest and most experienced post player.
“It means a lot to have him back, especially down low,” said sophomore Matt Van Scyoc, who led five players in double figures with 23 points against Montreat (6-3). “He showed what he can do tonight. He can play big forward or center, and he’s a great shooter and a big body that we just haven’t had yet.”
Bray played in six games last season before he was sidelined by calcium deposits in his ankle, his last appearance on Dec. 4, 2012, against Charleston Southern. He underwent surgery on the ankle last January, but woke up — mysteriously — with nerve damage in his right shoulder.
“It was frustrating, one thing after another,” said Bray, who started the first five games and averaged 5.4 points and 2.4 rebounds before he took a medical redshirt. “I couldn’t shoot a basketball, couldn’t even hold my arm over my head. It’s been all year rehabbing, trying to get that muscle back and that nerve healthy.
“It was one of those freak accidents that happen, and I just had to work my way back.”
With Bray out and 6-8 junior P.J. Horgan’s career over with a bad back, slender freshmen Tom Koopman (6-8, 210) and Nate Bowser (6-9, 210) have been manning the post. With his size and experience, Bray should return to the starting lineup soon.
“He will really help us on the boards, and that’s something we’ve struggled with at times,” coach Chuck Driesell said. “He’ll help us with scoring inside with the weight and the strength he has. Those are our biggest areas of need.”
Scoring wasn’t an issue against overmatched Montreat, which earlier this season dropped a 108-51 decision at Chattanooga. Freshman forward Brian White had his second double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Ashton Moore and Dylen Setzekorn added 13 points each and Marshall Harris scored 11 as the Bulldogs shot 14 of 30 from 3-point range and 57.1 percent overall.
It was The Citadel’s most points since a 131-79 win over Daniel Webster in November 2007.
Driesell was most pleased with his team holding Montreat to 34.5 percent shooting and committing 11 turnovers against 23 assists. Defense and turnovers were the issues during last year’s eight-win season.
“I love the fact that we’re holding opponents to 43 percent from the field,” said Driesell. “That was an Achilles’ heel of ours. I love the fact that we’re not turning the ball over as much as we did in the past, another Achilles’ heel. I think we don’t have as many ugly turnovers, really bad turnovers that there’s no defense for. I’m excited about those two areas.”
Monday’s game also saw the college debut of freshman guard Warren Sledge, who missed the first six games with a stress fracture. Sledge, 6-3 and 180 pounds, played 11 minutes and scored two points.
“After watching him play in Canada, he’s game-ready,” Driesell said. “He doesn’t let things rattle him, he doesn’t turn the ball over, has got good vision and pace. He’s been out for nine weeks, so we’ve got to take it slow and get him back to 100 percent.”
Freshman guard Kerigan Farley led Montreat with 17 points.
The Citadel plays this weekend at the Battle 4 Atlantis Mainland tournament at Towson, Md. The Bulldogs take on Colonial Athletic Association favorite Towson on Friday before facing West Alabama on Saturday. Their next home game is Dec. 7 against Gardner-Webb.