Saint Martin: Winthrop Stud Aims to Close Career with NCAA Win

Winthrop's Torrell Martin has had his fill of near-misses in the NCAAs


Oct. 11, 2006

By Bryan Armen Graham



Bryan is a basketball editor for and contributes on a regular weekly basis.
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CHARLOTTE -- The Shot is burned into Torrell Martin's memory like acid.


Greensboro. March. No. 15-seed Winthrop had fought tooth and nail to a 61-61 stalemate with second-seeded Tennessee in the waning seconds of their first-round NCAA tournament tangle -- a tour de force that had seen nine ties and seven lead changes by the time the Volunteers inbounded the ball with 2.9 seconds remaining.


"I knew I was going to play the best defense possible," said Martin, the Winthrop senior who was named Big South Preseason Player of the Year at the conference's media day Wednesday in Charlotte. "Usually that's going to get you somewhere. Obviously that time it didn't."


What ensued represents the oldest truism of the March Madness cosmos: One team's shining moment is another's darkest hour. Tennessee's Chris Lofton received the inbounds pass on the baseline and, falling away, hurled an 18-foot jumper toward the goal over Martin's outstretched right arm.


The shot would rattle home and the Vols escaped with a 63-61 victory.


"I just felt destroyed. It was a feeling I couldn't describe if somebody wanted me to," recalls Martin, who finished with 14 points and a career-high 13 rebounds in the losing effort. "I really didn't have any feeling. The game was so close and so exciting -- it was everything you think about a game like that being, but then to lose in the fashion that we did is just heartbreaking."


The setback marked the second disappointment in two seasons for the Rock Hill, S.C., school that has won six of the last eight Big South titles under Gregg Marshall. One year prior to the Tennessee frustration, the Eagles played third-seeded Gonzaga down to the wire in another white-knuckler.


Neither team led by more than two points until late in the contest, which was tied four times in the second half. Behind a heroic 27-point effort from Adam Morrison, the Bulldogs would come away with a 74-64 victory.


With Martin returning for his senior season, Winthrop is the unanimous selection to win the Big South in a vote of the league's coaches, sports information directors and media for the second straight year. The Eagles return four starters from a ballclub that finished 23-8 overall and 13-3 in league play, winning the regular-season and tournament titles on the way.


"I'm excited," said Marshall, the eighth-year coach who accepted the vacancy at College of Charleston this offseason before second-guessing the decision and returning to Winthrop. "I'm just the jockey. I just happen to have some very great thoroughbreds in our stable."


Tops among Marshall's equines is Martin, who received glowing praise from the coach during Tuesday's luncheon.


"He's a great actor. His acting teacher says he's a better actor than basketball player," said Marshall. "He's one of the most coachable student-athletes that I've encountered in my 23 years of coaching, and he's the finest student-athlete ambassador that we've had."


The Eagles didn't get in touch with Martin until late in the Columbia, S.C., native's recruiting, when his final list of schools had already been narrowed down to Clemson, College of Charleston and Appalachian State. Current Charleston Southern head coach Barclay Radebaugh -- then an assistant under Marshall at Winthrop -- made the initial contact with the Airport High product.


"When he was talking to me, I just felt this connection, this seriousness about him talking about winning," Martin said. "Coach Marshall came to my school and saw me play and he loved me. I had never even heard of [Winthrop], but all of sudden my mind changed. I took a visit and I loved the city and I came."


Last year, the then-junior Martin averaged 13.8 points on 44.3 percent shooting from the floor to go with 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals. For the second straight season, the 6-foot-5, 200-pound swingman was named MVP of the Big South Tournament.


Wednesday's accolade -- Martin's second consecutive Preseason Player of the Year award -- is a nice bullet on the resume. But he would gladly trade his trophy case to help Winthrop to the program's first-ever NCAA tournament victory.


"We have to get back [to the NCAA tournament], of course," Martin said. "We have a tough season and it's going to hard to get through with our conference. But once we get back, we have to get past that first round. Anything else would be a failure.


"Like people say, `You can taste it.' After last year, I can understand what that means. But this time, hopefully we can get back and I'll get to chew it and swallow it."