By David Brandt
OXFORD – Marshall Henderson’s poor behavior last season could come back to hurt Ole Miss this week.
The Rebels (9-4) will be without their leading scorer, who is averaging 18.8 points per game, during Thursday’s Southeastern Conference opener against Auburn (8-3) at Tad Smith Coliseum.
Ole Miss knew this was coming. Henderson will miss the team’s first two SEC games as part of a school-imposed suspension announced in October.
The 6-foot-2 senior was suspended a total of three games – the season opener on Nov. 8 against Troy and the two upcoming SEC games – for on-and off-the-court issues during and following last season.
By all accounts, Henderson hasn’t caused any problems this year, but that’s irrelevant as coach Andy Kennedy tries to develop a plan to beat Auburn.
“Other people are going to have to fill (Henderson’s) void,” Kennedy said. “We’re going to have to do it by committee. I can’t ask one guy to step in and fill that role.”
Henderson isn’t a particularly good defender, but his ability to score is undeniable. His numbers are down slightly from last season, when he averaged more than 20 points per game, but he still leads the SEC with 53 3-pointers.
“Yeah, we will have to change,” Kennedy said. “We’ll have to change the way we play on both sides. We will have a little more flexibility defensively. We won’t have to use so much smoke and mirrors. Offensively, obviously it’s going to be a challenge.”
The Rebels will lean on junior Jarvis Summers, who has nearly doubled his scoring output from last season and scored a career-high 29 points against Dayton on Saturday. The 6-foot-3 guard is averaging 17.8 points per game while shooting 55.2 percent from the field, including 54.5 percent from 3-point range.
He also leads the team with more than three assists per game and is a good defender.
“Jarvis is our best player,” Kennedy said. “He’s not our most hyped player, but he’s our best player and has been all season.”
Return to the dance
Ole Miss is trying to get back to the NCAA tournament after making it last season for the first time since 2002. But some close losses during non-conference play to Oregon, Mercer, Dayton and Kansas State have put a dent in the Rebels’ resume.
Getting off to a good start in conference play is crucial. Without Henderson, it will almost certainly be more difficult.
Auburn has lost four straight games to Ole Miss in a streak that dates nearly two years. But the Tigers come into tonight’s game on a four-game winning streak, which includes victories over Clemson and Boston College.
Junior K.T. Harrell leads the SEC with 19.4 points per game. Senior guard Chris Denson is right behind him with 19 points per game.
Denson said he expects Ole Miss to be a difficult opponent despite Henderson’s absence.
“They have Jarvis Summers and Derrick Millinghaus and are still a tough team,” Denson said. “It’s a plus that he’s not playing but we are still going in there with the same mentality and same attitude.”
The Ole Miss-Auburn matchup is likely to be high scoring. The Rebels ranked third in the SEC with 79.8 points per game while Auburn is fourth at 76.9.