By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Ole Miss fans gave their controversial hero a send-off Saturday afternoon in a manner to which they’ve been unaccustomed – somewhat – over Marshall Henderson’s two seasons.
Henderson was only 2-for-13 from the 3-point line but changed his game to get to the free throw line, where he gave the Rebels the lead for good, knocking down a pair with 3:36 left to play.
Sophomore guard Martavious Newby hit two more with 26.6 seconds left, and Ole Miss held off Vanderbilt 65-62 before a Tad Smith Coliseum crowd of 7,479 that celebrated Henderson, the Rebels’ only senior, in a pre-game ceremony.
After Newby’s free throws, the Commodores had a chance to force overtime with the shot clock off, but the Rebels kept the ball away from Vanderbilt’s best players. The sophomore walk-on who wasn’t even close with 4 seconds left attempted just two shots and played only seven minutes in the game.
“I just couldn’t make a shot,” Henderson said. “I figured it was the last game. Might as well go out with me not making a shot and us fighting till the end. It only seemed right.”
It was only the second win in the last eight games for Ole Miss (18-13, 9-9 SEC) which was once 6-2 and second in the SEC.
The conference tournament begins Wednesday in Atlanta.
Dai-jon Parker led Vanderbilt (15-15, 7-11) with 25 points. Equally important for the Commodores was his ability to fight through screens and guard Henderson.
“Vanderbilt’s M.O. is to turn guys off the 3-point line, and Da-jon Parker was doing a very good job of not getting screened and forcing Marshall into the action. I just try to encourage him to take what the defense gives you,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.
Winning at the free throw line was an uncomfortable thought for fans who watched the Rebels shoot under 50 percent there much of the game.
The Rebels hit their last six, and finished 24-for-39 for the game. Vanderbilt hit its first 14 free throws but missed its last two, both from Damian Jones after Henderson had put Ole Miss ahead.
The Rebels played with energy at home just three days after losing by 30 at Arkansas – a game the Razorbacks actually led by 46 in the second half.
The energy showed up in 17 forced turnovers leading to 16 Ole Miss points, and that overcame the Rebels’ continued inability to finish plays at the rim.
The guys who most often shoot there – Sebastian Saiz, Dwight Coleby and Aaron Jones – were a combined 5-for-15 from the floor.
Kennedy described the point-blank misses as “agonizing, deflating.”
But by getting to the free throw line with Henderson – who had attempted as many as seven free throws just once in the last nine games – the Rebels head to Atlanta with a sense of relief.
They’ve got three of the top five guys in the league in minutes,” Kennedy said. “They obviously have depth issues. We knew they were going to be a little tentative which allowed us to drive the ball.”