Jan. 25, 2000
by Andrew Mushett
When Clark Griswald and his family arrived at their personal promised land of Wally World near the end of the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation, they were greeted by the park’s mascot, Marty Moose. The lovable animal represented a welcome relief for the weary travelers.
Junior Martin Ingelsby, “Moose” to those who know him, has been a similar sort of welcome sight for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team.
“I think (teammate) Todd Palmer came up with it,” says the point guard, referring to his nickname. “He began calling me ‘Marty Moose’ and then it stuck. Soon everybody, including Coach, was calling me that. I even have a small collection of stuffed animals in my room.”
“‘Moose’ has been tremendous for us this year,” according to first-year Irish head coach Matt Doherty. “He has done everything we have asked him to do.”
One of the toughest things he has been asked to do by Doherty is accept his role of bench player and key reserve. Despite more starts than anyone else on the Irish roster (he had started 54 of his 56 career games) entering this season, Ingelsby has been asked to back up one of his closer friends on the team, senior playmaker Jimmy Dillon.
After playing 30 minutes a game prior to this season, Ingelsby is accepting his new position of role player. Only seeing 19 minutes per game this year, Ingelsby is averaging 6.2 points, but is contributing a lot more to this young team than just a deft scoring touch.
“It was tough at first,” remarks Ingelsby of the move. “I’ve never had to come off the bench. I just have to realize I’m not starting and go out and play the minutes I can. My parents have helped me a lot telling me to keep my head up, go out there and play hard, do whatever Coach wants.”
In order to accomplish that, the 6-foot, 180-pound, Philadelphia native has become more of leader on and off the court. On a team that features seven freshmen and sophomores, the now veteran Ingelsby is being called upon to help in the development of a youthful Notre Dame squad with aspirations of reaching the post-season for the first time since the 1996-97 Irish advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIT tournament.
“Moose” made an immediate impact for the Irish, averaging nearly 33 minutes a game as a freshman out of Archbishop Carroll High School. He was the first freshman to start a season-opening game at Notre Dame since Antoni Wyche did it in 1995. Ingelsby went on to average 6.6 points per game that season and was third in the BIG EAST Conference with 5.6 assists per contest, while being named to the 1998 conference all-rookie team. It is that experience that he calls upon when helping the younger players on the team.
“I had some tough times as a freshman and even a little bit my sophomore year,” recalls Ingelsby.
Those times taught him many lessons that he can now pass along to his teammates.
“I think I have become more vocal with them. Sometimes I just need to tell them to calm down, take it easy, and just play basketball. Hopefully, the younger guys will look for me if they need anything. We have that kind of relationship.”
Growing up around BIG EAST basketball his entire life (his father, Tom, and uncle, Ed Hastings, both played for Villanova), Ingelsby is no stranger to playing against difficult competition. Playing in the highly competitive Philadelphia Catholic League in high school, “Moose” knows how to handle the pressure of running the point. His calming influence on the court has helped the Irish to several big wins this season, including the shocking upsets of top-five teams Ohio State and Connecticut. His understanding of those situations helped him stay poised and hit some clutch shots to help Notre Dame to victory. In that season-opening victory over the Buckeyes, Ingelsby hit two three-pointers in the final 2:25 of the game to give the Irish a lead they would not relinquish. “Martin has played well for us all season, but he has been really tough in the big games,” notes Doherty. “He has made some clutch shots and remained poised in tight situations.”
Some of his best games this season have been against the better teams in the country. In addition to his 14 points in the upset of Ohio State, Ingelsby had a season-high 15 points against Siena, an NCAA Tournament team in 1999, helping the Irish to the semifinals of the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden, a homecoming of sorts for several of the east coast players on Notre Dame’s roster, the “I-95 guys” as they are referred to around the Irish locker room. With five players coming from Philadelphia or New Jersey, this year’s Irish squad has a lot in common on and off the floor.
That cohesiveness has led to a much more poised team that has been very competitive against a tough schedule in hostile environments. In addition to the big wins at Ohio State to open the season and over UConn in the conference opener, Notre Dame has been very competitive with perennial ACC power Maryland, dropping a 72-67 decision in the third-place game of the Preseason NIT and rallying from a large deficit, before dropping an overtime decision to Indiana in famed Assembly Hall. It has been in these big games that Ingelsby has drawn on his experience and helped the Irish remain competitive.
“We have played in some pretty tough situations, going down to Indiana and Ohio State and at Connecticut. But as Coach says, the basket is the same 10 feet for everybody. The fans can’t come out and block your shot. We know if we go out and play the way we can, we can beat those teams.”
That attitude has Irish fans hoping for the school’s first NCAA Tournament berth since Digger Phelps’ 1989-90 squad dropped a 75-67 decision to Virginia in the first round of the Southeast Regional. Ingelsby wants to return the Irish to the winning tradition of the past. In his three years of varsity play in high school, his Archbishop Carroll teams compiled an 80-12 record and a conference championship in 1995. He is trying to bring the same success to the Joyce Center. In Ingelsby’s first two seasons, his teams finished with sub-.500 records and were left out of post-season play. But in a season of adjustments for the entire program, the Irish enter tonight’s game against Miami with a 12-7 record (3-2 in BIG EAST play), the program’s best start in five years.
“We’re going out there and trying to do things differently,” Ingelsby says. “We have a whole new approach offensively and defensively. We are a tighter team, on and off the court, and we are winning basketball games.”
Scoring 73.5 points per contest, the Irish are playing exciting basketball. With an inside game featuring the nation’s second leading scorer in All-America candidate Troy Murphy, opposing teams are forced to pack the defense into the paint in an effort to contain the 1999 BIG EAST rookie of the year’s 24.4 points per game, allowing the perimeter game to open for the Irish sharpshooters.
“Troy is a great passer,” says Ingelsby. “We’re getting a lot of open looks. Our job is to knock them down.”
That is exactly what they have been doing this season. They have made 145 three-point field goals this season, including a school-record 14 in Saturday’s win over Pittsburgh. The record for three-pointers made in a season is 178, set by the 1993-94 team, and the Irish are set to pass that mark before Valentine’s Day. Ingelsby is also steadily climbing the Notre Dame career charts, where he stands second in threes made with 105, trailing only Ryan Hoover who made 248 for his career. His 255 attempts rank fifth all-time in Irish history and his 41.1% would place him second behind Joe Fredrick’s 52.1% career mark.
Despite his adjustments and struggles, Ingelsby has never doubted that he made the right decision to attend Notre Dame.
“This is a great place,” he says. “The prestige of this place as one of the top schools in the country is tremendous. It was a great opportunity to come here and get a great education.”
For all of the Griswald’s traveling problems and forced adjustments, the story finished with a happy ending. With “Moose” and the rest of the Irish enjoying one of their more exciting seasons in recent memory, Notre Dame and its fans may be heading for their own promised land this March.