An Under the Radar Marshall Henderson is Good for Ole MissPosted by David Changas on January 23rd, 2014
Maybe it’s because his team isn’t as talented as last year. Maybe it’s because we’re used to him now and his act has worn thin. Maybe he’s simply more mature. Whatever the case, the Marshall Henderson who entertained us with heroic shots, crazy antics, and endless taunts just doesn’t seem to be stirring the pot like he did a year ago. Sure, he still likes to put on a show and pound his chest after a big three or a pretty pass. It appears, though, that Ole Miss’ efforts to have the senior guard tone down his act have succeeded. Prior to the season, the school made the decision to suspend him for three games for his behavior – he missed the season opener and the team’s first two conference games. He completed that suspension, and proceeded to win SEC Player of the Week honors immediately upon his return after wins over LSU and South Carolina. While his scoring average is slightly down from last year (from 20.1 to 19.2 PPG), his assist and turnover numbers are slightly better. His team, which lost frontcourt stalwarts Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway to graduation, relies on him more than ever, and if it is going to make a run at a second-consecutive NCAA Tournament bid, will need the formerly volatile, now docile guard to be at his best.
The efforts that coach Andy Kennedy has made to rein in Henderson’s behavior have been well-chronicled. Kennedy has indicated that the fifth-year senior has not caused any problems whatsoever this year. On Wednesday night, he returned to the place where he first burst onto the scene when the Rebels visited Vanderbilt. His performance Wednesday was subpar – he scored only 11 points, going 3-of-10 from three-point range – but he showed he still has a flair for the dramatic. After Vanderbilt overcame a 13-point deficit early in the second half deficit to take a one-point lead with just over six minutes remaining, Henderson did his thing. “We turn it over, and he gets a three in transition and then he comes back and hits another one right after that. Those were both daggers,” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said after the game. “Dai-jon [Parker] did as good a job as you could do on him, and the kid still probably hits the two biggest baskets in the game.” It was yet another example of Henderson displaying his keen ability to come up big in important moments.
As we chronicled here earlier this week, Ole Miss may be emerging as a team behind Florida and Kentucky that could compete for an elusive NCAA Tournament at-large bid. The Rebels survived Henderson’s suspension in the first two league games, going 1-1, and now sit at 4-1 in SEC play. They have several opportunities for quality resume wins left, including two games against Kentucky and one each against Tennessee and Missouri. There’s no question, though, that they won’t be able to compete in those games or contend for a return trip to the Big Dance without Henderson leading the way. He recently acknowledged that he has indeed toned down his behavior, but indicated that he’s ready to go back to his old ways. For Ole Miss, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Part of what makes Henderson special as a player is his ability to rise to the occasion and make big plays in the game’s most crucial junctures. The “sense of urgency” Kennedy talks about is what makes Henderson go, and it was on display Wednesday when he salvaged an off night and came up with the two biggest plays of the conteset. As long as Henderson doesn’t allow his actions to cross the line to detract from the Rebels’ ultimate goal, his promise to go back to “being me” will allow the Rebels to compete for that Tournament bid.