Marshall Henderson stepped to the postgame podium in the bowels of Tad Smith Coliseum for the last time Saturday afternoon.
He was in tears.
Not because there was little or no fanfare. Or no more headlines left to grab. Or because his team had won for just the second time in eight games.
He cried because he was overwhelmed. Today was Senior Day. Ole Miss hosted Vanderbilt, and its lone senior, Henderson, was recognized. The outcome of the game, a 65-62 Ole Miss win, didn’t mean all that much, though it was a nice touch.
Over 7,400 fans showed up. A testament to Henderson, really. And the player who has all too often played the villain in his career was overcome with emotion. No chest beating or jersey popping. No choice words or questionable actions.
“I’ve been, since the game is done, crying in the locker room,” Henderson, who scored a team-leading 18 points in the win, said, pausing a time or two to gather himself. “It was just crazy shaking everyone’s hand after the game. It’s just like all these people come down right to the tunnel. I just can’t believe it.
“I’ve got to thank everyone for that.”
It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
Still, a nice crowd showed up and gave Henderson a loud, standing ovation prior to tipoff. The Ole Miss video department even rolled out three separate specially-made video packages for the colorful guard who brought Ole Miss back to relevance last season.
At first, Saturday wasn’t so much a celebration but another Senior Day. It’s a tried-and-true routine. The final home game of every regular season, hold a pregame ceremony where the senior(s) pose for pictures with his family and head coach Andy Kennedy. Give him a framed jersey and a moment to wave to the crowd.
Only it shouldn’t have been that way for Marshall Henderson.
And it wasn’t when the final second ticked off the clock. He shook every hand as he made his way around the court. He hugged his sister, decked out in a Henderson jersey in the Ole Miss student section, per the usual. He did a television interview and headed for the tunnel, where an eager crowd awaited him.
Love him or hate him, he got his moment. A moment fitting of a player of his magnitude.
“At the end of the day, you are what he numbers say you are,” Kennedy, who passed Florida’s Billy Donovan for the third-most wins in SEC history by a coach in his first eight years in the league at one school, said.
“When you look at his numbers, they’re pretty mind-boggling. He’s done some pretty incredible things with his ability to make shots. I told him, as long as he can keep this thing in the road the next few weeks, that one day at the SEC tournament, he’ll be recognized as an SEC Legend. He’s done a lot of great things for our program.”
For two years, this program has been Marshall Henderson and vice versa. Think about it. How does that random college basketball fan in California put together Ole Miss and basketball? Marshall Henderson. Even Google associates Ole Miss basketball with him. Try a search.
He shot more 3s in two years than any player in the history of college basketball. He led the SEC in scoring as a junior and set a league record with 138 made 3-pointers – a record that had stood for over a decade. He was, predictably, the MVP when Ole Miss made its memorable, championship run in the SEC tournament.
His final season wasn’t supposed to be this way. Not 18-13 and 9-9 in the SEC. No, 2013-14 was to be the crowning achievement in his short but memorable career. The year he overcame oft-covered off-the-court issues and stuck to basketball. The year he toned down theatrics and simply played the game and played it well.
“You never really know what you have with a kid until you’re in the fire with them,” Kennedy said. “Adversity introduces a man to himself. Until you go through some adversity, you don’t really know what you’re dealing with. I’ve been proud of Marshall. He’s never tried to run away from his mistakes. He’s owned them. I respect that. I respect a man that owns what he is.”
Win or lose, the Rebels’ bleak postseason hopes depend on how they perform in Atlanta, Ga., next week.
Henderson led Ole Miss to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years last season, finishing a game shy of the Sweet 16. His efforts were broadcast everywhere, and LeBron James, the best basketball player on the planet, even tweeted about him.
Saturday should have been the next paragraph in the final illustrious chapter of one of the best players in the history of Ole Miss basketball. Only it wasn’t. A win, sure, but actually a whimper when you get down to it; another game for media relations record books and the media guide.
That is, until The Moment came.
“At the beginning, warming up, it didn’t seem like it was Senior Night,” Henderson said. “The little announcement thing was cool at the beginning. But at the end of the game … what made it worse was that we had to fight really hard to win this game. It was all that extra emotion.
“It was good.”
History will likely be kind to Henderson. History has a tendency to focus on the good moments, and Henderson had a lot of them. His 30-foot 3 to force overtime at Vanderbilt, for example, will play on a loop in the basketball practice facility for years to come.
How it all ended, though? An anticlimactic affair that included eight losses in the final 12 games. To be fair, Henderson isn’t to blame for Ole Miss’ struggles. There were myriad issues with this team that played out game-in and game-out, from rebounding to an inability to score in the post with any consistency at all.
The result was a flameout when the program was positioned to take another step, to keep excitement high for what the future holds.
But back to Marshall Henderson Day, as Saturday turned out to be. What a shame it would’ve been had Ole Miss lost, and even more of a letdown had Henderson not been given some kind of memorable sendoff. At his best – and at his worst, too, for that matter – he set Ole Miss basketball on fire.
“He’s a guy that plays with great enthusiasm, with great passion. He’s been a big complement to our program,” Kennedy said of Henderson.
And now he’s gone. Ole Miss basketball just got a whole lot quieter.
— Ben Garrett, OMSpirit.com
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