By Tom Robinson
ITHACA, N.Y. – After going more than 31 months between games and last playing on the high school level, there was no time for gradual adjustment to National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I women’s basketball for Maddie Martin.
With the New Jersey Institute of Technology operating with just eight healthy players for four of its first five games and none of them a true back-up to Martin at point guard, the JB Hoops alum has been thrust into a heavy workload.
Martin, who had last played as a senior at Dunmore High School, missed the last two seasons while recovering from reconstructive surgeries on her left knee.
Injuries to teammates have made drastic cuts into a 12-player NJIT roster, at least for the early part of the season, as the Highlanders try to improve on a 6-24 finish a year ago.
“It hasn’t affected her position, but it has affected her minutes,” second-year NJIT head coach Mike Lane said. “Obviously, a kid coming off two ACLs, it’s not exactly what we want, but it’s hard to have her off the court.”
Lane has relied heavily on Martin during an 0-5 start by the Highlanders.
“She’s the one true point guard we have on the team,” Lane said.
Martin leads the team in minutes played and assists while ranking third in steals.
“It’s not the team we thought we’d have September 5th,” Lane said.
Martin is doing her best to help the Highlanders through the tough early times.
Against frequent full-court trapping pressure from Cornell in Saturday’s 68-44 loss, Martin committed just one turnover in 35 minutes. She has lost the ball just once in 65 minutes the past two games.
“She’s a heady kid,” Lane said. “ … She knew a press was coming. She knew what we were in; knew where to look; knew where to go.
“We have a very young team. So, even though Maddie, as a junior academically, literally did just play her fifth game, she is older and has that experience in some ways. She had the mental reps of being on the bench last year.”
The observations during Lane’s first season as coach had Martin ready to run the NJIT offense and distribute the ball to her teammate. Time on the court is helping her gradually find her own shots.
Martin shared team scoring honors with nine points, hitting her high for points and in steals, with three, against Cornell.
“It’s just getting the feel back for the game and trying to be more aggressive for my team,” Martin said of looking for her own shot.
Martin did not attempt her first 3-pointer until the third game and then, just one. She is 3-for-6 in the last two games, connecting twice in 24 seconds during the first half of the Cornell game.
After five games, Martin has tried just 16 total shots and has just 2 baskets from inside the arc.
While being asked to lead her teammates like a veteran, the fact that Martin is still early in her rookie season on the college level gives Lane reason to believe she will be doing more scoring on her own in the future.
“Maddie is one of those where, if you want to leave her open, we’ll be happy. She’s going to knock them down,” Lane said. “I think she’s still trying to figure out how to score inside the arc, but that’s what she didn’t get the last two years not playing. She hasn’t learned that yet.
“In high school, she could score. Now, everybody’s a little bigger and faster. She’s going to have to find that, whether it’s a mid-range pull-up or creating better contact and just knocking down shots at the line, which she’ll be great at. That’s where we see her game evolving eventually.”
As Martin and her teammates learn how to expand their games on the college level, she is pleased with their approach and confident that better times are ahead.
“The coaches are staying positive,” Martin said. “We know that we’re growing, even though we’re losing.
“We have people coming back, so we know we’re going to continue to get better. We’re definitely being positive about that.”
Through five games, Martin is averaging 4.4 points, 3.2 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals. She is 5-for-16 (31.3 percent) from the floor, 3-for-7 (42.9 percent) on 3-pointers and 9-for-14 (64.3 percent) on free throws.