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February 23, 2013

Martin takes the next step

Tick, tick, tick…

Twenty-four-year-old Scott Martin hears his college basketball biological clock pounding in his head. As a sixth-year senior, he knows the beat.

Now, with just four regular-season games remaining, Martin wants to make one last push.

The 6-foot-8, 218-pound tri-captain was in full practice gear Friday, ready to give it a go after being sidelined since the Jan. 21 home loss to Georgetown with chronic pain in his left knee.

"It's hard to see the future," said Martin, who has watched from the bench for the last eight games, six of which the Irish won to move to 9-5 in Big East play. "We'll see how it feels.

"It's a little better; it hasn't made leaps and bounds yet. But we're running out of time, so you've got to go with it."

Martin said that if his knee responded well to the Friday-Saturday practices that he would give it a go Sunday when the Cincinnati Bearcats (19-8, 7-7) are in town for a 2:00 p.m. tilt.

But Irish head coach Mike Brey sounded a bit more cautious Wednesday when he was asked if Martin could be back in action for the Cincinnati game.

"I don't know about this weekend, but he's really trying to make some progress toward a full practice or going live 5-on-5 Friday, which would be a big step," Brey said. "I don't know if he'd be ready with all the time he's missed and just two days of practice. We've got to see a couple full days of practice, but we are making progress. I'm encouraged."

Martin and Notre Dame were playing some of their best basketball when his twice surgically-repaired knee began acting up. After connecting on 10-of-14 of his three-point attempts in Notre Dame's victories over Seton Hall and Cincinnati to start Big East play, Martin suffered a setback.

He went from averaging 17.0 points per game and shooting 71.3 percent from three-point range to a mere seven points on 11 shots over the next four games, including 0-of-6 from three-point range. Notre Dame lost three of those four games.

Martin shut it down after the Georgetown game and the Irish won the next three, got hammered at Syracuse, defeated Louisville and DePaul in a combined six overtimes, took another beating at Providence, and pulled off an improbable comeback at Pittsburgh.

Brey has used two big men simultaneously in Martin's absence, and the overall rotation has been a bit more fluid, sometimes out of necessity (Louisville) and sometimes out of desperation (Pittsburgh). Notre Dame's offensive flow hasn't been as good as it normally is with Martin. Yet the Irish have played well at crunch time, going 3-0 in overtime games, 3-0 in home games, and a respectable 3-2 on the road.
"The team has been improving and trending upward," Martin said. "I don't want to come in and mess that up. I'm just going to try to fit in and do little things and try to help as much as possible.

"At this point, I don't even know a baseline. I don't even know where I'm at. I'm just trying to help as much as I can, whether it's three minutes, 10 minutes, 20…Wherever it's going to be, I'm just trying to get there."

Although Brey acknowledged that his team "has figured out" how to win in Martin's absence, he also knows what he would gain with a productive Martin back in the mix.

"He was our best rotating defender," Brey said. "He didn't block shots, but he led us in charges taken. He's always there to rotate and get there. Scott Martin was the ultimate team defender."

Offensively, Martin knows how to get the Irish back in the flow, due in part to the match-up issues he presents for the opposition.

"Our system offensively has been built on great spacing," Brey said. "We've been able to spread you out and space the floor. We've been able to do that because we've always had a four-man who can stretch the floor. (Rob) Kurz, (Troy) Murphy, and Carleton Scott became that for us…(Tim) Abro(maitis) played that way for us at times.

"Scott Martin has been the ultimate stretch four-man. He can make a shot. You've got to guard him out there…He makes our guards more effective because the floor is more open. So when we do ball screens, you can't jam in off that other big guy."

Brey is open to all possibilities with Martin, but does not want to disrupt the positives the Irish have built in his absence.

"Scott would have to work himself in," Brey said. "He and I have talked about that, and his attitude is great because this is his last go-round. He just wants to help the team in some way, shape or form.

"Whether it's ever back to the minutes and the role he had before, who knows? Maybe he can't do that and that's not us. But he wants to help, and I would love to have that body available as we head down the stretch."

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