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Bolden Brace becomes a leader off the bench

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Bolden Brace becomes a leader off the bench

Charlie Wolfson

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Nearly a year ago, Bolden Brace asserted himself as a talented scorer in the CAA.

On Feb. 23, 2017, in a game on the road at Elon, the first-year dropped 40 points, including a school-record 10 three-pointers. He flashed that scoring touch in several other games last year and finished with a respectable but not eye-popping 7.5 points per game.

This season, he hasn’t come close to that 40-point mark — he actually hasn’t topped 15. Ask any of his teammates or coaches, though, and they’ll say he’s one of the Huskies’ most important players.

“A lot of guys are just scorers, but there are games where he’s taken four shots and he had a powerful impact on the outcome of the game,” NU men’s basketball head coach Bill Coen said.

Northeastern’s roster is strikingly young, with nine players in their first or second year and just one senior. Teammates have come to look up to Brace as an example of how to play hard and hustle with no regard for the stat sheet.

“Every game, all the time, every practice, he brings it,” said first-year center Tomas Murphy. “He just plays hard. That’s one thing you can always look up to in a player. When I look at him, it inspires me to work harder every day.”

What Northeastern lacked in experience this year it seems to have made up in hustle and resolve; the team has won a number of close games and sits a game out of first place heading into the last week of the regular season.

“I think this season’s been a lot different from last season,” Brace said. “And not just because of wins and losses, but the chemistry we have now is a lot better. That makes it a lot more fun.”

Brace started a number of games last season as his scoring picked up, and started the first six games this season. But when he was shifted to the bench unit on Nov. 30, 2017, against Harvard, he found a role that maximized his strengths and allowed him to give his team a major

boost in some of the most important parts of games.

Video courtesy Northeastern Athletics

“I actually love it,” Brace said of his new role coming off the bench. “Me and Tom [Murphy] start off the game on the bench with a rally towel and just get hyped. And then we go in and I think we’ve brought some good energy in and it’s been good for the team. I actually like it because it takes a little pressure off.”

Coen has deployed a balanced rotation all year and settled into a regular starting five with Brace, Murphy and fourth-year Devon Begley coming off the bench midway through the first half.

“It’s huge,” Murphy said. “He comes in — a lot of times me, him and Devo [Begley] come in together — and I think all three of us bring a different energy and dimension into the game. Bo, he’s always ready to go.”

He may not be an upperclassman, but in his second year, Brace is taking on the role of mentor off the court.

“Bo’s a great guy,” Murphy said. “Coming in, we built a relationship before I even got here. We’ve been together every day and we built a strong relationship. I think that shows on the court.”

Brace has enjoyed the new position, and he said it reminds him of his high school basketball experience.

“It’s been so fun,” Brace said. “I’ve had a friend group from home that I’ve kind of been with my whole life. Having Tom [Murphy] here has been great because we’ve been hanging out outside and talking about basketball. And he knows so much about basketball because he comes from a basketball family. It’s been a lot of fun, and I’ve learned a lot.”

Coen said he’s enjoyed watching Brace become a mentor for his teammates, and he’s always “trying to boost their confidence.”

Perhaps Brace’s greatest contribution to the team this year is his versatility. Coen said around the office they call him “a Swiss Army knife,” and coaches are quick to go to him when they need to make adjustments on the court.

“We can play him at backup point guard. We play him at the small forward. We play him at the power forward,” Coen said. “If you need to throw a full-court pass, if you need to take the ball out of bounds underneath, he’s got a very unique skill set that allows him to be utilized in a lot of different ways.”

Brace said he’s developed as a rebounder and passer this year, but that his biggest contribution may not be quantifiable.

“I’ve been trying to be more like the glue guy,” he said. “I’m trying to bring everyone together, being a good teammate for everybody and helping guys adjust. Because that’s what I went through last year. It’s been a fun process teaching them and working with some of the other guys.”

Coen, who will try to steer his team through the CAA Tournament to an NCAA bid, has watched his versatile second-year display new skills and fill different roles this year, but none of it has caught him off guard.

“I can’t really say I’m surprised,” Coen said, “because once you know Bo, you know he’s going to give everything he has to a situation. Whenever you’re around people like that, you can see them achieve great things. I think he’s on his way to a really, really terrific career here at Northeastern.”

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Bolden Brace becomes a leader off the bench