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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Men’s Basketball: Looking to make second-year leap, Martinelli helps push Northwestern past Dayton

Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer
Sophomore forward Nick Martinelli prepares to unleash his signature floater. Martinelli logged 19 minutes against Dayton on Friday.

When coach Chris Collins engineered his program’s first March Madness appearance in six years last spring, he counted on just one freshman to log minutes off the bench.

A player who didn’t see the court for a 56-day stretch — but stepped into the fold in the heat of a mid-January conference competition — now-sophomore forward Nick Martinelli earned his respect by doing the dirty work, which often didn’t dent the stat sheet. Through his team’s final 17 games, Collins made Martinelli a mainstay in his rotation.

Now, headed into his second season in Welsh-Ryan Arena, the 6-foot-7 forward seems to have fine-tuned his craft throughout the summer, looking to carve out more consistent minutes. According to junior guard Brooks Barnhizer, Martinelli’s love for the game kept him constantly on the hardwood.

“He loves ball — Nick’s problem this summer was that our coaches had to tell him to chill out and stop working out so much,” Barnhizer said. “You just want guys on the team like that.”

Due for an elevated role this season, Martinelli suffered a preseason lower-body injury that left him on a minutes restriction in the season opener versus Binghamton on Monday. In eight minutes of play, the sophomore grabbed one rebound and notched a block.

With Northwestern locked in an early November nonconference battle against perennial A-10 powerhouse Dayton on Friday, Collins planned to loosen Martinelli’s leash. He’d still monitor the sophomore’s minutes, but Martinelli would have the chance to make a more sustained impact on the game.

“Martinelli being able to be back in more of a normal role … it’s a 6-(foot)-7 guy who can just do a little bit of everything,” Collins said. “He can score, he can handle the ball, he’s really good around the basket and he’s got size and strength.”

Just over five minutes into the game, Collins called Martinelli’s number, spelling graduate student guard Boo Buie. It took Martinelli 33 seconds to unleash his patented picture perfect left-handed floater deep in his arsenal.

Capitalizing off a turnover on his first offensive possession, the local product who made his mark about 10 miles from NU’s Evanston campus at Glenbrook South High School was right back where he belonged. Active on both ends of the court throughout his first Friday stint, Martinelli provided yet another spark when he checked in for his second shift of the half.

While the Wildcats trailed the Flyers 25-24 in the first frame’s closing minutes, Martinelli converted two of NU’s three consecutive baskets, finishing a layup through contact to draw an and-one opportunity and pumping up the packed student section.

Martinelli poured in seven points on a perfect 3-of-3 clip from the field, leading the ’Cats to an 11-0 run which sent them to the locker room up 35-25. Posing a two-headed monster of a post presence alongside Barnhizer, Martinelli handed Collins a new dynamic to his attack.

“Brooks and Nick playing together allows me to get creative,” Collins said. “Our two best post players are Brooks and Nick … when they play together, we try to see what the other team is doing and try to take advantage of that mismatch.”

With Buie deep in foul trouble midway through the second half, Collins once again looked to his sophomore guard to log a crucial five minute stretch in crunch time sans the squad’s primary ball handler and scoring threat.

Although his shot didn’t fall like his first-half clip, Martinelli’s effort off the bench helped shore up NU’s push for a statement victory. The lineup played off each other’s strengths, and Martinelli gave way to Buie with the ’Cats still in control of the clash.

On a Friday night when he tied his career high of nine-points and secured four steals in 19 impactful minutes, Martinelli proved his potential to be a crucial piece in Collins’ plans down the stretch.

To Barnhizer, who broke out in a sixth-man role and served as NU’s Swiss Army knife last season, Martinelli may just be the team’s next rising star.

“I told him that what he really has to try to do and even surpass is the role I had last year, being a sixth man — coming off the bench and being aggressive,” Barnhizer said. “He’s gonna do that to the bar that I did, or even better this year because he just loves the game so much.”

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Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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