KNOXVILLE – Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson got his points. Tennessee got the 86-70 win.
The Vols will take that trade-off anytime.
UT (13-7, 4-3 SEC) ended a three-game losing streak to the Rebels and got a crucial SEC win against an Ole Miss team that came into the game 5-1 in conference play.
Henderson, who scored a combined 60 points in two wins over Tennessee last year, did some damage, but UT was able to overcome it. Known as one of the nation’s most dangerous scorers, Henderson finished with 26 points on 9 of 22 shooting (8 of 19 from on 3-point attempts).
But he needed more help. Outside of 16 points from backcourt partner Jarvis Summers, the Rebels (14-6, 5-2) didn’t have anybody else score more than seven.
"We didn't get a lot of production from anyone other than those two,” said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy. “You know, Marshall was a volume guy tonight, but he made a few and kept us in it. Jarvis got in some early foul trouble and that took away from his aggressiveness.”
Henderson went out after the first possession after a UT player inadvertently kneed him in the hip area. While trainers attended to him for approximately five minutes, the Vols ran out to a 13-4 edge before he checked back in at the 15:12 mark.
Playing with a slight limp from the early injury, Henderson still played his game – sprinting from side-to-side and jacking up a 3-pointer nearly every time he touched the ball. His first two attempts drew no iron at all, but he found his touch early in the second half. With UT’s lead extended to 48-32, he hit a pair of 3s as part of a 10-0 run that pulled Ole Miss to within six with just over 16 minutes left.
"Anytime you get to guard someone like that, it is just running and he is a consistent shooter, so it is always tough,” said UT guard Josh Richardson, who guarded Henderson for much of the game. "You can't get mad because a guy like that is going to hit some of those. That is how he plays."
UT kept its composure and weathered the storm. The Vols responded with a 9-0 run of their own to stretch the lead to 60-47 at the 10:12 mark. Ole Miss, which lost the rebounding battle 45-27, never got within 10 again with the lead reaching as much as 20 before UT finished off the 16-point victory, its second-largest in SEC play this season.
The Vols looked like a different team on offense. Tennessee had 41 points by halftime – matching the total output from their game at Florida on Saturday. UT worked its way around the various zone looks that Ole Miss utilized and shot 49 percent from the field and 55 percent from behind the arc in addition to knocking down 88 percent of its free throws.
“I have to give our guards a lot of respect because after the Florida game they didn't get discouraged,” said UT forward Jarnell Stokes, who recorded his 29th career double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds. “They got somewhat angry because of how bad they shot from the field and guys were in the gym after the [Florida] game.”
Tennessee guard Jordan McRae matched Henderson’s output, scoring 26 points, but was a much more efficient 6 of 7 from 3-point range. Josh Richardson added 16 points and point guard Darius Thompson added seven points and seven assists.
Perhaps Wednesday marked the changing of the guard at PG with Thompson getting the start over Antonio Barton and, despite some foul trouble, still playing more minutes than the transfer from Memphis.
“We definitely pushed the ball more,” Stokes said of playing with Thompson starting at point guard.
Added Thompson, "I felt like tonight I was a lot more aggressive and actually looking to score and find my shots and try to shoot them."
Tennessee, a team squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble, has plenty of work still to do to make the field of 68 in March, but Wednesday’s win over Ole Miss gives the Vols another quality victory over a potential tournament-bound team and restores some momentum after an extremely poor outing at Florida over the weekend.
UT begins a three-game stretch of winnable games (at Alabama, at Vanderbilt and vs. South Carolina) on Saturday against the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa at 9 p.m. ET.
“Play hard, defend and rebound and everything else just kind of falls in line,” said Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin. “Again, you never know how your shots will go, so you can't hang your hat on that. I think some of our guys hung their hat on whether or not their shot would fall in Florida. You saw the result. You have to play hard. You have to defend. You have to rebound.”
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga