Scott Martin’s actions didn’t speak loudly. And his words, those were quiet too.
Notre Dame’s season had just hit rock bottom in a 20-point loss at Gonzaga, the Irish blown out and reeling from losing Tim Abromaitis to a season-ending ACL tear days earlier. With its lead captain done, Notre Dame needed somebody to say something, but Martin wasn’t ready to lead himself, much less teammates.
At Gonzaga, the first road test since Abromaitis collapsed and seemingly took the season down with him, Martin went 0-for-6 from the field. He scored one point in 29 minutes. It was the start of a miserable eight game stretch when Martin wouldn’t hit double figures once and was held scoreless in a loss at Cincinnati.
“I don’t think I was as good of a leader as I should have been before that point, and I felt it was my responsibility, and I need to step up and do something and say something,” Martin said. “I was just laying it all on the line from then on out, and good things have happened.”
Martin insisted he never gave up on the season when Abromaitis went down, even if that injury seemingly rendered Notre Dame irrelevant. When the Irish opened the Big East they looked more likely to finish with a losing record than make the NCAA tournament.
The fact the Irish are here, a No. 7 seed facing No.10 Xavier on Friday night, is part testament to Martin finding a groove that eluded him in November and December. The fifth-year senior hasn’t been Notre Dame’s best player the past two months, but he’s been its most versatile.
He leads the team in charges taken. Martin and Cooley are the only Irish players who scored more during Big East play than in the non-conference. Martin’s 5.7 rebounds per game trail only Cooley.
“He's a smart guy, great leader, and become more of a role in the plays and more what's happening with the team,” Cooley said. “It's really good to have someone who knows so much about basketball you can always turn to, and just having that resource is huge.
“He's just always there for you. He always explains the different coverages and how to guard them. He's great like that.”
Brey elevated Eric Atkins to co-captain at mid-season to lighten Martin’s leadership load, but the issue was the veteran finding a voice at all more than needing a sidekick.
Considering Notre Dame has two players with legit NCAA tournament experience, the Irish needed a softer touch than what the sometimes tyrannical Ben Hansbrough provided last season, willing the program to a record 27 wins.
Instead of alpha male, Martin has been Brey-lite, more focused on giving confidence than bending teammates to his will.
“He doesn't yell at you,” said Pat Connaughton. “He yells like constructive criticism to you. He's not yelling things you do bad, he's yelling things you have to do better.”
And when Martin yells these days, teammates listen. They figure if the guy who barely said anything three months ago is talking, it’s not just to hear himself.
“My personality is not one of yelling and get going, that sort of thing,” Martin said. “I think it speaks a little bit more if I'm yelling, that everyone realizes the severity of the situation.
“If you've gotten me to yell, then things are not good.”
Against Xavier, Notre Dame hopes it doesn’t have to hear much from Martin. But if the Irish do, they’ll be confident their captain won’t be afraid to speak up.