Tipoff: Notre Dame vs. Purdue, 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Bankers Life Fieldhouse
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Scott Martin insists he sees no drama with his Purdue basketball encounter. The ties are gone; the emotions are spent. He's a Notre Dame veteran. The freshman year he spent as a Boiler is a lifetime ago.
So when the No. 22 Irish (8-1) play Purdue (4-5) in Saturday's Crossroads Classic at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse, in Martin's first meeting with his former team, it's just another game.
Or so he says.
“I don't see it as any different than us playing IU last year,” the senior forward says. “I don't know any of the guys on the team now. It's not like I'll play against any of the guys I played with before.
“Even offensively and defensively they do some things differently than when I was there. A lot has changed since I've been there.”
Martin also has changed. He's endured one redshirt season because of his transfer to Notre Dame, another one because of a torn knee ligament. He's in his sixth and, you assume, final college season, although coach Mike Brey has joked, “We'll miss him … unless he gets a seventh year.”
No one expects that to happen. The 6-8 Martin is having a solid final year, averaging 8.9 points and 7.5 rebounds. His career averages are 9.6 points and 5.2 rebounds. But his contributions, Brey says, go beyond numbers.
“He has to be rock solid because he's our captain. His leadership has been fabulous. He really knows our system and program. He's done as much coaching as any of my assistants at times.
“He's the total package. He's a beautiful player to watch. His role is so important for us. He embraces it to help us win.”
Embracing has been a roller-coaster journey.
As a freshman, Martin played in 32 of Purdue's 34 games, with eight starts. He averaged 8.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in 21.9 minutes as fellow freshman and longtime friend Rob Hummel surpassed him in impact and production.
Martin nearly left after the first semester, then did leave after the season.
It wasn't the warmest of departures. Painter has often said the reason most players leave any program, when you get past all the public excuses, is they don't like the coach.
Martin doesn't say that.
“No one is upset. It didn't work out. I don't think he (Painter) was too thrilled, but the way things happened, I don't think anyone is bitter about it.”
Martin says he has good memories from Purdue.
“We had some good times and some big wins. I enjoyed my time there.”
Notre Dame recruited Martin as part of a package with Hummel, his Valparaiso High School teammate. Brey said he wondered if he could have gotten Martin right out of high school if he had just recruited him.
“I'd have made him work for it either way,” Martin jokes.
Adds Brey: “I'm glad we got a do over. He's a special guy.”
Notre Dame enters Saturday's game on a roll. It has won six straight games since an overtime loss to St. Joseph's, including a 64-50 win over Kentucky. It has plenty of firepower from Jack Cooley (14.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 60.8 percent shooting), Jerian Grant (12.9 points, 40.6 percent three-point shooting), Eric Atkins (10.9 points, 42.3 percent three-point shooting) and Garrick Sherman (10.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 61.5 percent shooting).
Brey says Cooley “is the best rebounder in college basketball.”
“He makes everyone understand and appreciate what he gives us, the physicality of what he deals with night in and night out.”
Purdue's two-game losing streak and losing record doesn't fool Brey.
“They will really guard you, they will pressure the ball and they will physically defend you. It's what Matt has done with his teams every year. They rely on that. They really rebound.
“We might not be able to get into a beautiful offensive flow. If it's an ugly game, can we be mentally prepared to play like that.
“I want us to be able to defend. Guarding them is like guarding ourselves with their motion and movement and screening. They're still trying to figure out who starts and what their roles are, but we have to be prepared for them really guarding us.”
Martin says the Irish are ready for the challenge.
“It will be a great atmosphere. Everyone will be a little amped up.”