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January 24, 2013

Replacing the voice, the void

Scott Martin flies under the radar for most observers of the game. But his head coach and his teammates know how important he is to the success of the Notre Dame team.

"We have lost our most consistent voice," said Irish head coach Mike Brey Wednesday when it was announced that the 6-foot-8, 218-pound sixth-year senior would be lost indefinitely as he allows his ailing left knee to recuperate.

"Scott was the great endorser of the message a lot of times. No one guy can replace that. There's too much experience there with Scott. We need that more by committee."

The committee convened Wednesday afternoon in Purcell Pavilion as the Irish moved forward without Martin. Several key figures on the Irish squad - some of which have a greater role/responsibility now that Martin is out - spoke about compensating for Martin's absence as they prepare for a trip to Tampa to take on South Florida Saturday.

"It's a big presence that we're losing," said senior captain Jack Cooley, who is averaging 14.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. "Scott's a helluva player. I'm going to miss his help on the defensive glass. That's just huge. When you lose a leader like that, you really have to make sure control of the team doesn't slack off."

While Cooley will try to be a bit more vocal in Martin's absence, his on-court role won't change much. It's already quite extensive. He'll still be Notre Dame's main presence inside, and then some.

"I've got to try that much harder to get more rebounds," Cooley said. "Scott is about six or seven rebounds per game and it's gone, it's missing, so I've got to try to help pick that slack up and try to be more tenacious on defense to try to pick up where he left off and maybe pick up some of the charges that he gets."

Seniors Garrick Sherman and Tom Knight likely will see their playing time increase, especially when Brey goes with a bigger lineup featuring Cooley paired up with another big man.

For Sherman, it's about getting back up to speed after a couple of sub-par performances prompted Brey to put him on the bench against Rutgers and Georgetown. Brey has no choice but to put Sherman back in the mix.

"I've got to play better," said Sherman, the 6-foot-10, 246-pound transfer from Michigan State. "I know it, coach knows it, everybody knows it. You can talk about strategy and X's and O's. But I just have to play better."

Martin's absence, said Sherman, will be felt.

"It hurts," Sherman said. "Scottie is one of the leaders of this team. You can't replace Scott with one guy. Everybody has to do a little of everything to give us the same ball reversal and good feel on the court."

It was Knight who moved ahead of Sherman in the rotation last Saturday against Rutgers.

"I've got to be ready to do as much as I can for the team," said the 6-foot-10, 258-pounder who scored six points in a 1:41 span in the second half against Rutgers. "If coach wants me to do more, I'll try to do that for him."

Knight has struggled on the backboards. He failed to notch a rebound in 22 minutes of combined action against Rutgers and Georgetown.

"When the shot goes up, I have to attack the ball," Knight said. "I haven't been doing that too well recently. But I'll keep focusing on getting to the rim."

Knight acknowledged what the Irish will lose in Martin's absence.

"He definitely provides senior leadership and a maturity," Knight said. "We have mature guys, but he's a leader and the most mature guy. He's the voice of reason. Everyone looks up to him."

Brey also may look for a spark from 6-foot-10, 230-pound freshman Zach Auguste and 6-foot-9, 214-pound Austin Burgett. Auguste has logged just 62 minutes, scoring 32 points with 16 rebounds while Burgett has seen 29 minutes of action with six points and six rebounds.

"There's definitely an opportunity for one of us or anybody to step up and get some minutes," said Auguste, who scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 12 minutes of action against Kennesaw State on Dec. 19.

"What we need is someone to get in there and rebound, bring some energy and a spark to the team. (Martin) been telling us to practice hard and get ready."

Burgett, who was a red-shirt candidate early in the season, is mentally and emotionally prepared to step onto the court and make a contribution.

"I thought I'd get my opportunity, but I didn't want it like this," said Burgett, referring to Martin's injury. "I would rather have Scott playing right now and me getting mop-up minutes."

Burgett has a clear vision of how his role in Martin's absence should work.

"Me and Jerian (Grant) have sat down and talked about it," Burgett said. "Just try to be a swing four man and try to spread them out. By spreading them out, it gives Jerian and Pat (Connaughton) driving opportunities and gives them more open looks."

Burgett is an admirer of Martin's contributions to the team.

"Even yesterday, we get a water break and (Martin) bumps into me and says, 'Hey, you need to do this and you weren't doing this.' It's like big brother, little brother. He's always there.

"(Martin) has a huge voice. He was always talking, on the court and off the court. We always knew his presence, even if he wasn't in the game. He gets his point across."

Another player whose participation will be impacted by Martin's absence is 6-foot-7, 186-pound freshman guard Cameron Biedscheid, who likely will see more action when Brey goes with a smaller lineup around Cooley.

"I'm sad to see that Scott's out," Biedscheid said. "He's a great part of our team. He's a great veteran and he really keeps us focused.

"But we all have to be ready to play. I need to keep improving on defense and rebound way more. Attack the glass and look for my shot even more now that (Martin) won't be providing us with his offensive spark."

While Brey said it would be a minimum of two-to-three weeks before Martin returns to the lineup, Sherman is certain that the Irish captain will be on hand for the stretch run.

"Oh, he'll be back," Sherman said. "There's no doubt that we'll have him back eventually."

Until then, it's all hands on deck and any added leadership welcome.

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