By David Brandt/The Associated Press
It didn’t take long for Marshall Henderson to introduce himself to the Southeastern Conference.
The 6-foot-2 junior college transfer strolled into Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena and scored 32 points on Wednesday, leading the way as Mississippi pulled off a relatively easy 92-74 victory over the Volunteers.
The scary part for future opponents is the sharpshooting, uber-confident Henderson didn’t play particularly well.
“You look at his numbers, he scores 32 points, but he goes 8 for 19 (from the field) and 3 for 12 (from three-point range),” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “It’s his first road game in SEC play. I thought we were a little anxious early and once we settled down in the second half, we were able to get some separation.”
The Rebels (12-2) have another chance to make an SEC statement on Saturday when they host No. 10 Missouri (12-2) at Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford, Miss.
The well-travelled Henderson, who has spent time at Utah, Texas Tech, South Plains (Texas) College and now Ole Miss in his four years of college basketball, was certainly expected to help the Rebels’ ability to put the ball in the basket.
But his first-half numbers have exceeded all expectations: He’s scoring an SEC-best 19.1 points per game and shooting a relatively solid 36.7 percent from 3-point range, especially considering he’s taken nearly double the attempts (150) of anybody else in the conference and is often double-teamed.
He’s also confident to a fault — known to take a wild shot from 25 feet if the urge arises. He doesn’t mind reminding opponents how he can fill up a box score, either. His 32 points against the Volunteers came with a fair share of theatrics — the kind that draw the ire of opposing players and fans.
That’s led to some bench discussions with Kennedy, especially regarding shot selection, but the seventh-year Ole Miss coach says the passion Henderson brings to the court is part of what makes him so effective.
After six seasons of decent basketball but no NCAA Tournaments, Ole Miss hopes Henderson’s moxie might help push the Rebels into the postseason.
The Tennessee win was certainly a good start.
“I was proud of my guys, they came out and were very aggressive,” Kennedy said. “When I look at the stat sheet, I see we’re plus-15 on the glass, which never happens to a Tennessee team. We scored 92 points and didn’t even shoot it particularly well.”
Those 92 points weren’t an aberration. The Rebels lead the conference with nearly 84 points per game, running the floor at nearly every opportunity. They’re also aggressive on defense, and have two of the league’s most experienced and productive post players in seniors Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner.
Holloway is averaging a double-double with 15.7 points and 11 rebounds per game while Buckner is already the program’s all-time career blocked shots leader.
“We definitely have a great team,” Henderson said. “We’ve got depth. We may not have as much experience (in the backcourt). I don’t really think about that. We can ball. That’s all you really need to do.”
Holloway and Buckner helped carry Ole Miss to 20 victories last season. But Henderson’s ability to score has the Rebels thinking even bigger this season.
His ability to change a game was obvious against Tennessee. After a poor shooting start, he made three 3-pointers in the second half to help the Rebels pull away.
“Obviously, he had a 4-or 5-minute (stretch) where it was a ‘wow’ moment,” Kennedy said. “He’s capable of a lot.”
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to this story.
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