Robert Martin found his role for Rice basketball midway through his senior season. How a switch to the bench paid off for Martin and his team.
Basketball is a game of adjustments. On the simplest level, each player strives to take their best shot. How that shot is executed — and who takes it — varies from series to series, game to game and season to season. What worked for a team in November isn’t always the best recipe by February. That’s the puzzle Rice Basketball and senior Robert Martin found themselves in this season.
Martin started nine of his first 10 games and had a decent amount of success. He scored a season-high 23 points with five three-pointers against Houston. That was part of a five-game run of double-digit points. But a six-point outing against Lamar in which he shot 1-for-10 from the field served as a reminder that things weren’t clicking quite at 100 percent for the Owls’ senior.
Then Martin made the bold decision to ask head coach Scott Pera to come off the bench rather than play from the starting lineup. It was Martin who approached Pera about the switch, not the other way around. “The fact that he would say that and think that could be beneficial to him and the team says a lot about him,” Pera said, recalling the conversation. “It just worked.”
The shift was almost instantaneous. Martin dropped 20 points against Houston Baptist in his first game after his starting streak ended. He scored in double-digits in 13 of his final 17 games from that point onward.
There was a mental shift in Martin that impacted how he played on the court. He shot 36.0 percent from the field in games he started and 49.6 percent when he came off the bench. He hit 27.1 of his three-point shots as a starter and 41.3 percent off the bench. Martin averaged slightly more assists (2.1 per game to 1.9) and fewer turnovers (1.5 per game to 2.1) in his new role compared to when he was starting. It was almost as if a switch had flipped.
Martin’s mental pivot impacted his teammates. Shortly after he moved to the bench the team fell into a tough stretch, opening C-USA play 1-7.
“At this point, we really have nothing to lose. So I think that although all the pressures, the jitters, being nervous, we can kind of throw that all out the door,” Martin said following a heartbreaking home loss to UTEP. Rice would lose their next game to UTSA, but then things turned around.
Rice basketball knocked off C-USA’s eventual champion North Texas at home to begin a hot streak. They won six of their next eight games, clinching a spot in the conference tournament. The credit doesn’t belong to Martin alone, but his decision impacted the team in a big way.
Pera admitted he didn’t know how Martin was going to fit into the rotation at the beginning of the season. “I wasn’t a hundred percent sure which way it was gonna go. Were we going to start him? Weren’t we going to start him,” he recalled.
Ultimately Martin made the decision on his own. Pera supported him. It didn’t come to pass like either had drawn it up, but some plans require a bit of tinkering. Martin owes his strong finish to his senior season to a course correction that impacted everyone for the better.