Leading the Charge

Scott Martin, Notre Dame's lone healthy senior in 2012, led Mike Brey's Irish from the depths of December to the brink of a double bye in the forthcoming Big East Tournament.

At some point, human nature likely kicked in and Scott Martin must have asked,
"Why me?"

Not necessarily when classmate Carleton Scott elected to forgo his final season of collegiate eligibility last March, leaving Martin and fellow forward Tim Abromaitis without their much needed, extremely athletic third wheel.

Certainly not when promising freshman forward Eric Katenda, the likely replacement for Scott in the rotation, tragically lost sight in one eye during a freak accident in a summer pick-up game.

And maybe not when the aforementioned Abromaitis – Martin's good friend and fellow Irish co-captain – was lost in November to a torn ACL.

But at some point during Notre Dame's ugly end to the 2011 calendar year, the Lone remaining Ranger from last year's sterling veteran quintet had to question why the basketball gods decided to wreak havoc on his senior season.

At 8-5 entering Big East play with a collection of ugly defeats contained therein, Martin never wavered. He instead focused, improved his own play, and along the way cajoled his teammates to get better the old fashioned way.

"I think over Christmas Break right before the Pittsburgh game, we said we have to turn this thing around," offered Martin of the team's climb from mediocrity. "(They decided) ‘What we're doing is not enough and we have to start working harder in practice and going after each other more.'

"From there we changed our mindset and it's carried through the rest of the way."

So too did a healthy dose of Martin's athletic pride.

"You have to remember it's your senior year and it's your last shot. I think that's what kind of drove me through all this," Martin noted of his attitude when the Irish hit their lowest point. "You don't want it to go down like that. You don't want it to end like that. You have to keep pushing and fighting. You can't quit.

"I think that's the attitude I had and it just kind of rubbed off on everyone else."

Beyond the Box Score

Below are a set of numbers unlikely to be associated with a team MVP at any level of basketball:

9.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 39.9% FG, 71.1% FT, 25.2% 3PTFG.

Whether he technically takes home the honor or it instead goes to any of three deserving teammates, Martin will be lauded by his head coach as the player that led the Irish back to Big East and NCAA contention.

Not included in the official numbers is the fact that he leads the team in charges taken (he might lead the nation, at least charges absorbed in the paint). Nor can fans understand the importance of his presence and voice on both ends of the floor. (Brey noted Martin might be, "the best team defender in the nation.")

"I think Scott has a great feel of when he needs to score for us and push it a little bit. Recently, he's very confident offensively and he's shooting the ball well; driving it. He's getting to the bucket and becoming a playmaker for us.

"The bottom-line with Scott as a 'step-back 4-man' (power forward), a lot of times, he's the guy that has the best chance to break down the defense.

"I love the fact that he's confident shooting and scoring."

All of this consistent guidance from a shooter who missed 18 straight three-point shots in on stretch, but still proved too valuable to be removed from the court.

"We always had a defensive mindset, but it took time," Martin said of the his own and the team's developing persona. "We had younger guys who didn't have a lot of college basketball experience, so they got more accustomed and more of a feel, and I think that goes back to practices. We really focus on it in practice, and I think that helped them make strides to get better."

As for his hellacious mid-season shooting slump?

"I don't think you can get overstressed. If you're open you shoot it. Get extra reps as much as possible but even, if you're shooting well you have to do that. Keep working hard, keep trying to get better, there's always room for improvement…obviously," he noted with a smile, so just keep working."

After missing 26 of 27 three-point shots during an eight-game span, Martin since regained his stroke, hitting 37 percent on his most recent 35 attempts. But through it all, his chief focus: playing outstanding position defense, both individually and in aid of his teammates, never faltered.

"Its fun. It's a challenge, and it's something I feel I've developed in my 'vast experience' playing college basketball," Martin offered of his role as defensive stopper for Brey's Irish. "I'm at the point now where I cherish those nights and the opportunity to get to do that, and just go have fun against those guys who are playing amazing basketball."

Some of those guys include the league's chief MVP candidate Kevin Jones and sure-fire first-team all-Big East selection Jae Crowder.

In two games (both wins) vs. West Virginia's Jones, Martin held the 6'8" 260-pound scorer to 29 total points on 12 of 27 shooting. Jones, the Big East's leading rebounder at better than 10 per game, finished with just 13 boards in those contests.

In an early February blowout of Marquette, Martin limited the versatile and imposing Crowder to four points on 2 of 7 shooting in 35 minutes. It was the only Big East contest this season in which Crowder failed to hit for at least 14 points. (Crowder has averaged a shade under 25 points per contest in the Golden Eagles six games since.)

Defense, weak side rebounding, dirty work...and a rebirth on the offensive end. Can Martin continue his ascent to help the Irish make a deep run in an upcoming tournament?

Better Still?

Notre Dame's nine-game conference winning streak ended with a thud: two road losses vs. St. John's and Georgetown over a three-day period.

A positive has already been gleaned, as Martin and the Irish can now focus on their stated season goal: to get better every day.

"We all know how both sides of the coin are," noted junior center Jack Cooley of the team's highs and lows this season. "To know where we were (in December) and how far we've come this year allows us to maintain our calmness, and know we have nothing to lose, and we just go out there and play."

Asked how the team improved every day Cooley joked, "Luckily as you saw in the beginning of the year, that we had a lot of room to get better every day."

Martin's focus remains on that initial task at hand.

"At the end of April, hopefully we'll look back on it as a great year. We have our heads on straight and we need to continue to do that," he offered. "We're very focused on what we need to do and how tough it is to do it."

Martin, who's pursuing a potential sixth-year of eligibility for 2012-13, knows better than most.

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