Tynice Martin leads WVU women into NCAA basketball tournament

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After a remarkable freshman season for West Virginia’s Tynice Martin in 2016, the sophomore and now co-captain for the Mountaineers has had an even bigger impact this year. WVU begins its NCAA Tournament road against Elon on Friday at 2:30 p.m.

After Tynice Martin’s standout freshman season with the West Virginia University women’s basketball team, some of the honors that came her way were those a player might expect — Big 12 All-Freshman team, Big 12 Freshman of the Year, finalist for USWBA National Freshman of the Year.

Then came her sophomore year and an honor that doesn’t always come to players her age, even great ones — team co-captain.

It’s an honor she cherishes, and one she’s had to grow into. She fit the role quite nicely in WVU’s red-hot run to the Big 12 tournament title and will help guide the No. 22 Mountaineers into their first-round game of the NCAA women’s tournament in College Park, Maryland. WVU (23-10), the No. 6 seed in the Bridgeport Region, will play 11th-seeded Elon at 2:30 p.m. Friday. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

When WVU coach Mike Carey came to Martin with the news that she’d be a co-captain along with senior Lanay Montgomery and junior Chania Ray, she wasn’t sure if she was prepared to take on a role like that so soon.

“It was kind of scary, because I felt like I wasn’t really ready for it,” she said. “I’m still learning and I feel you can’t tell people what to do if you can’t do it yourself.”

She was able to do plenty in her first season out of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy in Georgia. Martin averaged 10.3 points as a freshman, and her 362 points and 140 field goals each ranked fifth best for a freshman in WVU program history. She was only the second player in program history to win a conference Freshman of the Year award, joining Meg Bulger, who won the 2004 Big East honor.

Still, the jitters of youth affected Martin at the beginning of her new leadership position.

“I wasn’t very vocal at first,” she said. “But when I felt more comfortable out there, it became easier.”

That growing comfort level showed on the court. She finished in double-figure scoring in the first 21 games of this season and averages a Big 12-best 18.6 points entering Friday’s contest. She really came into her own during WVU’s run through the Big 12 tournament, scoring 21 points against Oklahoma, 29 against Texas and a championship-game-record 32 in knocking off Baylor for the crown. She was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and her 27.3 points per game over those three contests were the third-highest average in tournament history.

“I’m just coming out aggressive and not being passive, recognizing defenses,” she said. “And I have my team behind me. Sometimes it’s hard to be aggressive, but, like I said, it’s a learning process.”

She’s learning to be a more vocal leader, making it her mission to instill confidence throughout the roster. It’s one of the traits she holds most dear and a trait she ranks among the most important to own.

“I’m all about confidence, and if you have confidence, you can pretty much do anything,” Martin said. “I’m very big on confidence and pride.”

The Mountaineers are confident entering Friday’s game, but have a solid opponent in the Phoenix (27-6). Elon is in the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history after a couple of program firsts — Elon’s first Colonial Athletic Association regular-season and tournament titles. The Phoenix have a trio of triple-digit scorers, guards Shay Burnett (12.1 points per game) and Lauren Brown (12.0) and forward Jenifer Rhodes (11.0). Burnett is an All-CAA first-teamer, while Rhodes made the third team.

Martin and the Mountaineers are confident, but won’t be careless. Martin doesn’t want the feeling of what she and her teammates have accomplished so far to fade too soon.

“It’s been great,” Martin said. “Honestly, I never even thought about having this type of feeling, of making history, of walking down the hall and people coming up and saying congratulations. I just hope we can humble ourselves and go far in the NCAAs.”

Contact Derek Redd at 304-348-1712 or derek.redd@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

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