By David Brandt/The Associated Press
OXFORD— The Marshall Henderson road show has at least one more stop.
Mississippi’s polarizing and high-scoring guard averaged more than 23 points per game in the Rebels’ run to a Southeastern Conference title. Along the way he dumped 27 points on Missouri, flummoxed Vanderbilt’s defense and mocked Florida’s crowd by doing the school’s gator chomp after making a big 3-pointer in the championship game.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy isn’t always crazy about Henderson’s antics. But he usually can’t argue with the results.
“Obviously, the Marshall Henderson show is like the traveling circus,” Kennedy after Sunday’s win over Florida that locked up the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2002. “It’s up, it’s down. We’ve got the high wire act over here, the ponies here, we got all kinds of nonsense going on, and he draws a lot of attention. He’s a big shot maker.”
Love him or hate him, Henderson can alter games in his hurry.
Now he’ll try to help 12th-seeded Ole Miss (26-8) pull off a few upsets in its first trip to the Big Dance in more than a decade. First up is a game against No. 5 seed Wisconsin (23-11) on Friday in Kansas City, Mo.
Opponents and their fans may loathe Henderson, but his Ole Miss teammates don’t have anything bad to say. Fifth-year senior Murphy Holloway said Henderson’s moxie is one of the main reasons the Rebels have finally progressed from the NIT to the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve got the heart and we’ve got the will,” Holloway said. “And we’ve got Marshall. He’s gotten us over the hump.”
All of the attention on Henderson has also revealed his checkered past, which includes multiple run-ins with police and a jail stint in Texas last year after a probation violation. Kennedy knew about Henderson’s past issues before he signed, and says there have been no problems at Ole Miss.
Now the 6-foot-2 guard — who started his career at Utah and then played at a junior college in Texas before transferring to Ole Miss — has turned the Rebels into one of the most offensive-minded teams in the country.
Henderson averages 20.1 points per game, leading an Ole Miss team that is among the nation’s leaders with nearly 78 points per game.
Though his reputation as a long-range gunner is largely earned — 367 of his 507 shot attempts have come from behind the 3-point line — his game has proven to be more diversified as the season’s progressed. He ranks second on the team with 59 assists and 47 steals.
Henderson said one reason he came to Ole Miss is because of Kennedy. The 45-year-old played in college at North Carolina State and Alabama-Birmingham in the 1980s, had many of the same skills and even a little bit of added personality.
“My relationship with coach Kennedy is just amazing,” Henderson said before the SEC tournament. “Literally, he’s the same person I am except he’s (45) and I’m 22 and he’s the coach and I’m the player. It works out in a lot of ways. Some of our little episodes on the bench, people try to blow out of proportion. But that’s just us communicating in a different way for a positive goal at the end.”
Kennedy agrees with the comparison — to a point.
“I was crazy. I wasn’t that crazy,” Kennedy said. “That comparison between me and him, people need to go back and check the footage.”
Now Kennedy will try to prepare Henderson and the rest of the Rebels for a Wisconsin defense that knows few peers. The Badgers are also battle-tested after navigating a brutal Big Ten schedule and making it to the Big Ten tournament championship before losing to Ohio State.
“As contrasting as night is to day,” Kennedy said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Bo Ryan. I’ve known him for a number of years. He’s one of the true great coaches in our game.”
And if the Rebels are going to have a chance to knock off one of the Big Ten’s best teams, Henderson will almost certainly have to play well. He’s scored at least 20 points in five straight games.
“When Marshall makes shots,” Kennedy said. “It gives the other guys confidence.”
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