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Rebels Beat Vols As Henderson Goes for 28 Points

Marshall HendersonPhoto Courtesy of Scout.com
Marshall Henderson
Photo Courtesy of Scout.com

As Marshall Henderson goes, so goes Ole Miss.

By: Ben Garrett, OMSpirit.com columnist

Never has that been more obvious than on Thursday night, a sloppy game from Ole Miss that resulted in a win anyway, giving the Rebels their best start (16-2) since 1936-37, and just their second 5-0 SEC start in school history.

This game could’ve have gotten ugly quick. Ole Miss entered the game as the nation’s third-best scoring team (82 points per game), only to score 18 in the first half to 25 for Tennessee.

Henderson? He was 0 for 4 from the floor, with all of his misses from 3. His only points came from the free throw line, where he made all four of his attempts.

“The game was really what I anticipated,” head coach Andy Kennedy said. “It’s very difficult to beat someone two times, especially in the span of about a three-week period.”

But Ole Miss did beat Tennessee, 62-56, and Henderson was the reason why.

The Rebels couldn’t make a shot in the first half. Guard your eyes from this ugliness: They were 4 of 23 from the floor – 17 percent – and had been dominated on the glass, 26-18. Even with his porous shooting performance in the frame, Henderson was tied for the team lead with four points. Reginald Buckner and Nick Williams each had four, too.

“I thought he had some pretty good looks in the first half and he missed them,” Kennedy said of Henderson. “Once he got one going, then he made that crazy leaner, then he started knocking down shots.

“We tried to ride him as hard as we could.”

Hate on Henderson all you want. Tennessee fans and media certainly have ever since the talented, if not combustible, junior college transfer dropped 32 points on these same Volunteers in the conference-opening game for both teams earlier this month.

However, there’s no denying what he means, what he’s meant, to Ole Miss. When his first 3 fell with just over 15 minutes left in the second half, he was off and running. He scored 24 second-half points, finishing the game with 28 in all.

Only one other player, Buckner, finished in double-digit points. Henderson made 6 of 11 3s in the second half, terrorizing a Tennessee defense that did everything it could to slow him down.

“Credit to him for staying aggressive, staying in the game, being ready when his time came,” Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin, his team now 9-8 overall and 1-4 in SEC games, said. “He started coming off those screens, made a couple, and when he makes a couple, gets his head up.”

There’s been so much made of the colorful Henderson – his saluting fans, always running his mouth, pumping his fist after big plays, etc.

An example: As Henderson and Tennessee guard Jordan McRae, who alone kept Tennessee in the game with his 26 points, met in the tunnel pregame, Henderson was overheard saying “I got 32 on y’all last time.”

Who cares if he talks? Who cares if he rubs some the wrong way? Ole Miss hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2002. The Rebels have yet to hit double-digit tournament games in the 100-plus year history of the program. He’s the catalyst.

His value to Ole Miss is cemented in the locker room. His teammates love him, his coach has said Henderson reminds him of how he was as a player, fans respond to him, opposing teams hate him. His bravado is what makes him who he is, the caliber of player he is, and for Ole Miss, that’s its most valuable player.

He didn’t talk much during the game. A little? Of course. He can’t help it. But when an ESPN camera approached him at midcourt just seconds prior to tip, he pushed him away.

He had heard what Tennessee players had said about him all this week. His Twitter followers made sure he was well aware. On Thursday, though, he was all business; or as all business as Marshall Henderson can be.

And Ole Miss won, despite playing its ugliest conference game to date.

“I really didn’t have a choice,” Henderson said of hearing all the talk directed his way from Tennessee during the week. “My Twitter account was going off. I was like, well, I’ll take a game off talking. I’ll let the game do the talking this time.”

Message received.

Fact: Ole Miss is where it is because of Marshall Henderson. Fact: Murphy Holloway, Reginald Buckner and Nick Williams, the three senior leaders, see Henderson as the missing piece from previous seasons. Fact: Henderson is the shooter Andy Kennedy trusts most.

He hit three 3s in the span of two minutes to bring Ole Miss roaring back for a 36-32 lead early in the second half. He made another with the scored tied, 53-53, for a lead Ole Miss would never relinquish late.

He can talk all he wants. But his actions spoke louder tonight.

“No one’s really noticed it until now that we’ve started winning,” Henderson said of his on-the-court antics. “It’s about time we got some recognition. We’ll beat (Tennessee) 10 times out of 10.”

Well, maybe not.

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