Martin was suspended by South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner for harsh language aimed at guard Duane Notice during a loss to top-ranked Florida last week.
Associate head coach Matt Figger led the Gamecocks to a 74-62 win at Mississippi State on Saturday.
Martin returns to the sideline Wednesday when South Carolina (12-19) faces Auburn (14-15) in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Martin apologized to fans last Friday for his outburst at Notice that went viral. He vowed to change, but has taken his share of hits on sports-talk shows and Internet chat rooms the past week.
His critics argue that the harsh words can’t possibly help a young team closing a fifth consecutive losing season, but Thornwell said they misunderstand Martin’s purpose. Gamecock players support their coach and don’t believe his cursing and shouting are meant to demean them, Thornwell said.
“I look at it as motivation,” said Thornwell, who is averaging 13.5 points, good for second among Southeastern Conference freshmen. “You see a coach and see how much he loves the game and wants to get after it, (that) makes you want to get after it, too. That’s how all of us look at it.”
Martin, 47, has developed a reputation for intensity since taking over as Kansas State coach before the 2007-08 season. He’s not shy about dressing down players who don’t fulfill assignments.
That’s nothing new for Thornwell, a guard who says he had coaches throughout his youth career who shouted at times to get their points across. He says he picked the Gamecocks over offers from Florida, Louisville and Ohio State in part because of Martin’s style.
“I personally don’t think he needs to change,” Thornwell said. “We like the way he is now. How he coaches is how he coaches. And you can’t really get mad at a guy for showing that much passion.”
Martin took time during the weekend to reflect on his behavior and acknowledged he’s got improvements to make. But he says he’s received texts, emails and other messages from past players and colleagues encouraging him to keep his head up through the ordeal.
“I felt good about myself,” he said. “Will I be different? I have to be.”
Martin wasn’t sure how he would handle missing the regular-season finale last weekend. He told Figger and his assistants if they needed him, he’d take their calls, but didn’t plan to bombard them with directives and strategy.
While watching the cheerleading competition, Martin tried to track the game on his phone before giving up. His wife, Anya, had been receiving texts from several people with game updates and shared them with Martin in the car on the way back to the family hotel. Once in the room, Martin turned on his tablet and tuned into the final minute as he watched his players secure their only SEC road win this season.
Martin was proud of how his players overcame the adversity their coach had created with the suspension.
“That was a personal moment for me,” Martin said.
It was personal for the team, as well. “We wanted to go out and win this game for coach,” Thornwell said.
Last week was not the first time Martin regretted his on-court behavior. In January, he apologized to leading scorer Brenton Williams for a tirade during a loss to Mississippi.
Williams bears no ill will from the encounter and said Martin’s way has been successful on and off the court.
“It does get to us too in a motivation way, so I don’t think he needs to change at all,” Williams said.