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Tyrese Martin will be a key to success in March

The senior led the way with 19 points against Villanova and played one of his best games of the season.

Connecticut v Villanova Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Tyrese Martin is one of the key cogs in the UConn machine. With the third-highest minute total on the team, despite missing four games with a wrist injury, Martin is a key defender. At 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, the senior is relied upon to play important defensive minutes against bigger guards and is one of the Huskies’ primary offensive options after RJ Cole and Adama Sanogo, with a 22.1 percent usage rate.

Martin averages 13.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, which are third and second on the team, respectively. During his four-game absence, the Huskies lost a tough road game to West Virginia and struggled in a too-close-for-comfort victory over Maryland- Eastern Shore. It was clear that his size and defensive acumen were missing, even in wins over Grambling State and St. Bonaventure.

He also has a tendency to get hot from 3-point range, as demonstrated by a 4-7 performance on the road against Butler, as well as 4-6 inside Madison Square Garden against St. John’s. Martin has only 88 attempts on the year, but is a 42 percent shooter from long range.

“He’s a great shooter. So you’ve got to play him on the perimeter. You play him on the perimeter, he puts it on the floor. He drives. And if he gets a mismatch, the offensive rebound — we had a couple of stops and then he just went off and got offensive rebounds,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said after the game. “He does everything. He can beat you every way. He’s just a complete player.”

Friday night was one of those nights for the Allentown, Pennsylvania native. It was a 3-point contest early, as he kicked off three straight deep shots to start the game. Overall, he was 4-8 from downtown as part of a 7-17 shooting night, leading to a team-high 19 points.

Martin also added seven rebounds, of three of which were offensive, and a pair of steals.

“Tyrese just plays like a man. He willed us there today,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley said. “They’re keyed in on RJ [Cole]- they played size on RJ with Slater and that made it tough on RJ. Adama [Sanogo], he was surrounded and oftentimes double- and triple-teamed.”

UConn is an experienced team, starting Martin, a fifth-year senior, as well as graduate students RJ Cole and Isaiah Whaley. This is the time of year where veteran leadership pays off, with guys who have been there before to keep teams steady. While UConn never led in the second half of Friday’s semifinal, Martin was part of keeping Villanova’s lead from getting out of control, as the Huskies’ road defeat at the Wildcats did.

“He means a lot to us. We all know what Tyrese can do and what Tyrese means to this team,” Adama Sanogo said. “Today we were able to stay in the game because of him. He meant everything to us.”

UConn’s next loss will mean the end of its season. Having players that can right the ship and keep eight-point leads from ballooning to double digits and higher, as Martin was able to do on Friday, contributing at both the offensive and defensive ends, are crucial to success in March. While Sanogo and Cole earned all-conference honors and Martin was left off, the senior wing is going to have a large say in the length of the Huskies’ stay in the NCAA Tournament.