Tori Martell Wraps Up a Memorable Basketball Journey on ESPN Thursday Night – Bobcats Athletics

BOZEMAN, Montana – When Tori Martell pulls on her Montana State jersey for the final time tonight and takes the floor in historic Hinkle Fieldhouse on the Butler University campus, she’ll be doing more than pulling basketballs off of a rack and casting them toward the rim. She’ll be looking for a bullseye.
 
And it won’t be the first time.
 
“Her dad would take her before games and they’d throw darts to get her (focused) on the bullseye,” Bobcat coach Tricia Binford said hours before Martell is scheduled to compete in the Rocket Mortgage Women’s 3-Point Championships Thursday night in Indianapolis. “Her dad was her shooting coach growing up, he taught her how to shoot, wouldn’t let her (shoot from anywhere except) the key until she got her (non-shooting) hand out of the way, kept the ball high, all those things. They’d go find the dart board somewhere to just get her mind on the target, and her dad (Bruce Martell) is with her in Indianapolis so I told her you guys better find a dart board before tonight.”
 
Thursday’s three-point contest will be aired nationally on ESPN. The event begins at 7 pm MT.
 
Whatever else Binford knows about Martell, she is positive that the senior guard who made 211 three-pointers in her Bobcat career – third-best in school history – will bring one characteristic with her to the floor. “Focused,” is how Binford describes Martell’s approach to shooting, and everything else in her life. “She’s a focused kid in general on everything she does – her nursing degree, how she sacrifices things that might get in the way of being an elite, focused kid.”
 
Martell came to Montana State from Somerset, Wisconsin, and immediately impacted the Bobcat program. She drilled 36 three-pointers as a freshman in 2017-18, and a year later hit 46 while increasing her scoring average from 4.4 points a game to 7.2. In 2019-20, when the Bobcats won the Big Sky Championship, Martell earned the league’s Top Reserve title while averaging 8.1 points a game. She hit 60 triples as a junior, and this season her 69 three-pointers was MSU’s sixth-best single-season mark. She finished 18th in the nation in three-pointers made and her eight against North Dakota is a Bobcat single-game record.
 
Her coaches insist Martell isn’t defined by numbers, but by how she reached them. “She has perfected her footwork, she has perfected her timing, the different angles she comes off of screens,” said Bobcat assistant coach Sunny Smallwood. “She has worked so hard on the details of getting a quick shot off, and she’s extremely focused and a really hard worker. She’s earned the career that she has had.”
 
MSU assistant coach Geoff Golden, who guesses that he has shagged “in the thousands” of jumpers from Martell since joining the Bobcats last summer, said she has earned her success by committing to “the consistency of her release. She’s very consistent in her release. It looks the same every time, it comes off her hand the same every time, she gets her feet set, she’s well-balanced, all the things you think about as a good shooter she encompasses that top to bottom.”
 
That ability, and her consistent technique, is deeply rooted. “I always focus on my follow-through,” she said. “My dad still yells from the stands as a college player, ‘Hold your follow-through,’ so that’s always been the emphasis of my shot.”
 
Golden said that because Martell “does spend as much time as she does working on her shot, her defining characteristic as a player is her ability to make those big shots.” Her list of big shots during her four seasons at Montana State is long. She drained eight in MSU’s season-opening win over North Dakota this season. In her final home game as a Bobcat, Martell hit four of her five three-point attempts, the biggest coming with the Bobcats down three as the clock ticked down in the fourth quarter. On an inbounds play Martell took a pass on the right wing, about 25 feet from the basket, and calmly drained it to send the game to overtime. In the extra five minutes, MSU beat the league leading Bengals.
 
Another big moment arrived at the end of Montana State’s final home game of 2019-20. “One of the best games and feelings was Cat-Griz last year, when it was a packed stadium and we got to cut down the nets (after beating the Lady Griz). There’s no other feeling that you’ll ever feel like that again. Just being able to look at pictures from that game brings me right back to it. That’s definitely one of my highlights here.”
 
As is the case with everything else in her life, Martell prepared earnestly for Thursday’s three-point contest. “We did some research,” Golden said. “We looked back at some three-point shooting contests from the last couple of years to make sure we understood how the format was going to be, and we worked on how she was going to transition from rack to rack so she felt comfortable in that scenario and to give her a feel for the timing. I told her she should look back at some old Larry Bird (three-point videos) to get a feel for the confidence he had as a shooter.”
 
Snagging balls from a rack rather than off a dribble or from a pass presents a challenge, Martell said. “It’s definitely a lot different. It’s definitely a lot harder shooting off a rack than having a perfect pass right to my pocket. Getting used to shooting off the rack has been a little bit more difficult.”
 
Martell learned of her opportunity on the national stage in unique fashion. “Coach Bin actually told the whole team when she told me after the Sacramento game, the last game there, so it was really exciting,” she said. The whole team was super excited for me. It’s a great honor to go shoot on national television, and it was a really exciting feeling.”
 
The focus on display during her excellent academic career, which culminates in a month when she graduates from Montana State’s exceptional College of Nursing, has benefited her as a shooter, Binford said. “When you think of everything she’s about as an example to her teammates she’s a really focused kid, and shooters have to have great focus. Your technique has to be super sharp and consistent, and she’s laser focused. Great shooters, elite shooters, just don’t have distractions. That’s how she was on the defensive end, that’s how she was on the offensive end, on her nursing degree, she’s just a really efficient kid.”
 
Martell was the team’s lone fourth-year senior this season, and it was unusual. From the agony of the 2019-20 season ending with the team on the brink of winning the tournament championship, through the uncertain summer and anxiety-filled fall, the Bobcats forged a tremendous season. The Cats finished third in the Big Sky standings, and advanced to the semifinals of the league tournament.
 
But for Martell, the important thing – which has been the case since she returned from Wisconsin to Bozeman last spring in order to spend time with her graduating teammates – she has focused on the fun and camaraderie. “We made the most out of this year,” she said. “It was a really fun year in different ways. In the past it was fun having the fans in those big moments, but this year the team created fun in a different way and ended up having a really solid year. It was definitely a fun year going out for me as a senior. I had some fun moments with the team, and getting to end my career doing this is pretty sweet.”
 
After years and years of basketball, growing up in a gym with her father and sister, hours and hours of travel ball, hundreds of middle school and high school games, through her four years in the Blue and Gold, Martell has always been an excellent shooter but has grown into a player without real weaknesses. She is excited that part of the reward is an appearance on national television.
 
“Just getting to shoot and getting to compete one last time is what I’m most excited for,” Martell said of her opportunity under the bright lights. “Getting to shoot on ESPN is going to be really cool. It’s very exciting, kind of intimidating, but I think it’s something people look to in their lives and I think it’s going to be a really exciting way to end my whole basketball journey.”
 
While a basketball journey paved on big shots ends in historic Hinkle Fieldhouse tonight, another begins when Martell returns to campus. It, too, will feature shots. “I haven’t been able to help with the vaccination clinics because we were traveling or at a basketball game at the time they’ve held them, but I think there’s a few more that I should be able to help with this semester. A lot of my classmates have been helping with vaccinations around campus and around the Bozeman community.”
 
Academics mirrored basketball for Martell during the 2020-21 school year, she said. “Obviously going in and out of quarantine the first semester was really tough with school, but I ended up getting all my clinical hours in, in person, in the hospital, which was really awesome because a lot of college nursing programs didn’t get to experience that. I missed a few classes, we’ve done them virtually, but school’s been really great this semester and I think being in Montana was a huge advantage for me being in the nursing field.”
 
The three-point contest provides closure to a brilliant career for Martell. “It hasn’t really hit me yet that I’m done for good. Preparing for this I haven’t really been done shooting so it hasn’t hit me that I’m not playing again next year. I think looking back it’s been a great experience, I’ve met some great people, great teammates, I’ve had the best coaches in my four years that I could ever ask for so it’s been overall a great experience here at Montana State.”
 
It’s a fitting end, and one she appreciates. “I’m really looking forward to putting on the Montana State jersey one more time.”
 
#GoCatsGo
 

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