KNOXVILLE – Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson made an impression that few who attended last year’s Tennessee-Ole Miss game in Knoxville could forget.
Henderson let shot after shot fly as the Rebels ran away with a convincing 92-74 win – one of the worst home losses for the Vols in recent history.
He attempted 18 total shots, 12 3-pointers and made his way to the free-throw line 14 times. In the closing minutes with the game already well in hand, Henderson kept shooting, kept prancing around the court and pointing to the crowd and kept talking. With his point total in the 20s, he screamed that he would get 30. He finished with 32.
It had to be a particularly grating situation for Cuonzo Martin, who regularly talks about defense and protecting home court as two essentials for any program.
With the Rebels back in town Wednesday night, does Martin want his team to remember last year?
“If they don’t, something is wrong,” Martin said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “He scored 32. He played well. It actually surprised me because, watching him on film, I thought he was a slight guy. He's actually a little taller in person. But, he takes and he makes big shots.
“And he plays with a lot of confidence. His team passes him the ball. They look for him. And, they know when he gets the ball, it's going up.”
Confidence is one way to describe it. Arrogance, swagger or cockiness are some others.
Some have tabbed him as the SEC’s villain, but that’s really an old title he carried over from his playing days at Utah, when he was seen in the same role for the Mountain West. Henderson bounced from Utah to Texas Tech to South Plains Junior College before eventually landing at Ole Miss for his final two seasons of eligibility.
It’s been a bumpy ride with some off-the-court missteps. Most recently he was suspended for three games this season after police found illegal drugs in his car over the summer.
Coach Andy Kennedy elected to just give Henderson the suspension despite Henderson having past drug-related incidents, telling reporters at the time that the fact that Henderson wasn’t charged with a crime this past summer made the incident different than others.
And despite missing the first two SEC games because of the suspension, Henderson is back to his scoring ways – averaging 18.7 points per game, good for fifth in the league and less than a point per game below the conference’s leading scorer.
Guarding Marshall, who scored 28 points against the Vols in the road rematch last season, is more than a 40-minute exercise in fundamental defense. There’s a mental component as well.
“I mean, you watch him – every coach – you watch him play and understand that he has some intelligence about the game,” Martin said. “He sets you up. He has a feel. He reads the defense. He knows how to come off and get his shot. He knows when two guys are on him – he dumps it down. So, he knows how to play the game.”
Tennessee will mix it up when it comes to defending him. Expect Josh Richardson – UT’s best overall perimeter defender – to get a majority of the responsibility for checking him. But it’s a team effort. Ole Miss will use ball screens to get switches on him, so all five players on the court must be ready to help.
“You have to put different bodies on him to give him a different look,” Martin said. “You give him the same look every time down, he'll adjust quickly, and he'll make you pay."
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga