David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after this afternoon’s SEC Tournament semifinal between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in Nashville.
Three Key Takeaways.
- Vandy Goes Cold. Vanderbilt was in control of the game for most of the first half, as they led by eight with just under four minutes remaining in the frame. After that, the Commodores went ice cold, particularly from three-point range. They were held scoreless for the last 3:49 of the first half and didn’t score their first basket in the second until the 17:35 mark. For the game, they shot just 33.9% from the field, and went 6-of-30 from three-point range. What Kevin Stallings did with this team was somewhat remarkable, as anyone who saw the Commodores two months ago never would have believed it could have performed the way it did in this tournament. But Vanderbilt clearly was bothered by Ole Miss’ Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway on the inside, and it was unable to get good looks or knock down enough shots on the perimeter. After playing the last two nights, it stands to reason the Commodores had tired legs, and it clearly showed in their performance Saturday.
- Marshall, Marshall, Marshall. Marshall Henderson has been, to say the least, a source of entertainment in Nashville this weekend, and much of the buzz among fans and the media has been about the Ole Miss junior. On Saturday, he was not quite as animated as he was in Friday night’s comeback over Missouri, but he still showed flashes of the personality that drives so many in the league crazy. What can’t be discounted is how important he is to his team. He led Ole Miss in scoring for for the second consecutive game, and, as he did Friday, hit key shots at important times. His play allowed the Rebels to extend their lead, which Vanderbilt was never able to overcome. If the Rebels are able to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in coach Andy Kennedy’s tenure, it’s no coincidence that it comes in Henderson’s first year in the program. Kennedy clearly decided to allow him to display antics that most coaches would not, and it may get the Rebels into the Big Dance. Henderson has deficiencies – he takes too many shots outside the flow of the offense and isn’t a particularly good defender – but he gives Ole Miss an element it hasn’t had in the past, and he was worth the risk for Kennedy.
- Is Ole Miss Safe? Andy Kennedy is convinced his team is in the NCAA Tournament, and Friday’s win over RPI No. 35 certainly helped the Rebels’ cause. But Saturday’s win over the Commodores likely did nothing to push Ole Miss closer to a tournament bid. Vanderbilt is outside the RPI top 100, and this committee will be given no real weight by the Selection Committee. The Rebels needed the win more from the standpoint that a loss would have severely damaged their cause, and more importantly, it now gives them a chance to take the decision out of the committee’s hands by beating Florida tomorrow. If they lose to the Gators, it’s anyone’s guess whether they’ve done enough to earn a bid. The only two top-50 wins they have came against Missouri, and they have ugly losses against sub-top-200 teams South Carolina and Mississippi State. The Rebels own 25 wins overall, so it won’t be surprising if they do receive a bid even if they aren’t able to beat the Gators, but Kennedy’s club would be well-served to take care of business tomorrow and earn the auto-bid.
Star of the Game. Marshall Henderson. Henderson went only 3-of-11 from three-point range, but did lead his team with a game-high 23 points. Again, though, it was the timing of his scoring that keyed the Rebels’ second-half run.