Irish Move On Without Martin

The Notre Dame men’s basketball team has had to move on without a key starter several times in recent years, and now the Fighting Irish must figure out how to press forward without their most experienced player. Head coach Mike Brey said Wednesday that sixth-year senior Scott Martin has a 50-50 shot of playing again this season after pain in his left knee has become to much too manage.

Scott Martin's season is in jeopardy as the sixth-year senior is expected to be sideline for 2-3 weeks at the very least with knee pain

“We started the Big East season and we had him I think really close to 100 percent in those first two games,” Brey said of Martin, who underwent surgery to repair a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in the fall of 2009, and another procedure this past summer to address his meniscus. “The last four we’ve kind of been piecing it together with duct tape, ibuprofen and not practicing, and it’s just not very productive for him and it’s not productive for us.

“Scott and I talked yesterday and I thought we need to shut him down to see if he can get back and have to have one more run for us. I hope he does, but I don’t know if we can count on that, quite frankly.”

Martin entered Monday’s contest against Georgetown with the third-best 3-point shooting percentage (55.6) in the Big East behind teammates Eric Atkins (66.7) and Pat Connaughton (56.3). The Valparaiso, Ind., product recorded his 1,000th career point on Dec. 19 and boasts 92 career starts, including his freshman year at Purdue.

He played just 18 minutes in the 63-47 home loss to the Hoyas, which dropped the Irish to 15-4 overall and 3-3 in league play. Martin has made just 2 of 11 attempts from the floor for seven points over the last four games after averaging 9.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per outing in the first 15 games of the 2012-13 season.

“For us as a coaching staff and a team, and I’ve told Scott this, we need to move forward like that’s not going to happen,” Brey explained. “I don’t think we can count on that or plan on that. That’s kind of the attitude we’ve taken.

“This is not new territory for us. Two of the last three years, with Luke Harangody going down and then [Tim Abromaitis], we’ve had to figure it out with a guy — a pretty good player — that’s been off the board. Harangody returned in an off-the-bench role; Abro never returned. It’s territory we’ve been in before. We have to plan like [Martin’s] not coming back, and if he does come back, man, it’s a pleasant surprise.”

Not much has been pleasant for the Fighting Irish, losers of three of their last four, over the last two weeks. A 12-game winning streak and a 2-0 start to league play fueled hopes of competing for the program’s first regular-season crown and Big East tournament title. A higher level of success in the NCAA Tournament was also believe to be realistic based on the returning experience of this year’s crew.

Now Brey must turn to rookies, as well as senior center Garrick Sherman, who’s seen few minutes in recent games after underperforming, in an attempt to keep their heads above water in the choppy seas of the Big East to merely snag an NCAA bid.

Brey basically rattled off the rest of the names on his roster without having a clear idea of how he’ll restructure the starting lineup and bench rotation before Saturday’s trip to South Florida.

“Austin Burgett,” Brey said. “Garrick Sherman had a really good practice [Tuesday]. Everybody is back on the board. Zach Auguste. You can play small, which we have at times with Pat [Connaughton] and Cam [Biedscheid] in there with our guards and Jack [Cooley]. All of those things are things we have to evaluate, and not just this week, that’s kind of who we’re going to be moving forward.

Biedscsheid is the only freshman to get heavy minutes as the squad’s sixth man. The forward is stuck in a shooting slump now, but was averaging around eight points per game through mid-January. Auguste and Burgett have played sparingly in mop-up situations. Sherman’s inconsistency is the root of his decreased action.

“I think there was frustration on his part,” Brey said of Sherman, a Michigan State transfer that had showed a capability to pour in big points (career-high 22 against Monmouth on Nov. 17), but has been too soft and off-target in conference play. He’s a competitive guy, but he also knew when we talked, he knew he really wasn’t delivering for us. He was his worst critic. We went with Tom Knight. I’ll say this about [Sherman], during games he was great with Tom Knight out there on the bench; he was helping him. But he wants to play; he wants to be part of it. He’s got a year and a half left in his college career. I thought yesterday his that his bounce and fight was interesting to see. When opportunity knocks, it’s funny how guys are like, ‘Uh oh, the door is open; Martin’s down.’ There’s opportunity again, so it was good to see.

“But I do think, yeah, rightfully so, there was some frustration, some disappointment. But business is business in terms of production.”

Brey said Martin’s handling the situation the best a guy can after fighting for a sixth year of eligibility, only to see his career likely come to a grinding halt.

“Disappointed and maybe relieved a little bit,” Brey explained. “He didn’t want to tell me he couldn’t go. It’s funny, in practice the other day he wasn’t moving real good and I kind of got on him. I said in front of everybody, ‘Hey, you’ve got to let me know. Can you go or not?’ Then he kind of cranked up his motor, took a charge and got a rebound. He won the game for us the other night on a charge on one and a half legs coming over to rotate. That’s not lost on me.

“But I think there’s a little bit of relief of, ‘I can’t do it and I’m not helping us. Let me step away and see if I can get myself well for one more run.’ I think we both kind of said when I brought it up that this is the only way to kind of deal with this right now. He’ll go take care of his business and see if he can go get healthy. In the meantime we can’t count on that. We really can’t count on that. We’ve got to move forward with our basketball team right now. We’re 3-3 and trying to figure this thing out.”

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