By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – A loss at South Carolina may have the Ole Miss NCAA tournament hopes clinging to one thin strand, but the Rebels are holding on tightly.
Marshall Henderson came off the bench to score 19 points in the fist half, and the Rebels defeated Auburn 88-55 before 7,275 fans at Tad Smith Coliseum on Saturday afternoon.
Andy Kennedy, who became the winningest coach in school history with his 145th victory, said he hoped sitting Henderson at the beginning would take some pressure off a player who was 9 for 30 shooting in his previous two games, 4 for 17 at South Carolina.
Henderson had his best game of the season, shooting 8 for 12 from 3-point range, scoring 28 points and tying former players Keith Carter and Chris Warren for the school record for 3-pointers made in a game.
He had not made more than three 3-pointers in a game since Feb. 6 against Mississippi State.
“It was a genius move, wasn’t?” Kennedy said. “I think he’s putting too much pressure on himself.”
The Rebels (20-7, 9-5 SEC) have appeared among the “last four in” for the NCAA tournament in the most recent projections of ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
Some analysts have speculated that Ole Miss needs a 13-5 SEC mark, which would require the Rebels to win out.
Saturday was a good start.
Henderson was 5 for 6 from 3-point range in the first half, but it was more than Henderson.
The Rebels (20-7, 9-5 SEC) out-rebounded Auburn (9-18, 3-11) 38-22 after the Tigers were plus-1 on the boards against Ole Miss on Jan. 26 when Henderson’s two free throws with 6.4 seconds left helped the Rebels escape with a 63-61 win.
The Rebels’ effort and focus did not wane in the second half as it did in that MSU game when Kennedy complained of his team “coasting” to the finish.
Ole Miss led Auburn 44-27 at halftime, and sightly more than 6 minutes into the second half – after Terry Brutus scored with an assist from Henderson – the lead was 60-36.
Henderson said he has never failed to start a game at any level unless he was suspended.
Henderson attempted only one shot inside the 3-point circle.
Murphy Holloway led Ole Miss with 10 rebounds. He added 10 points to post his second-straight double-double, a feat he’d not accomplished in the SEC this season.
Auburn got 18 points from guard Shaquille Johnson but double figures from no one else.
The Tigers shot 39.3 percent from the field and were just 3-for-18 from the arc.
Henderson believes the Rebels control their NCAA fate but can’t slip up.
“I don’t think so. I can’t see that. I know the Alabama game is going to be a big game. Whoever wins that game probably gets second place, and that’s crucial,” he said.
Alabama visits Oxford on March 5.