Marshall-mania hits Rupp Arena for Kentucky game

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 3, 2014 

Mississippi Vanderbilt Basketball

Mississippi guard Marshall Henderson claps after scoring against Vanderbilt in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. Henderson led Mississippi with 26 points as they won in overtime 89-79. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

MARK HUMPHREY — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Marshall Henderson playing Rupp Arena. It's sort of basketball's version of the Beatles performing on the Ed Sullivan Show, which happened 50 years ago this coming Sunday.

Unconventional artist who polarizes the populace but can't be ignored appears on one of this country's grandest stages.

Yeah-yeah-yeah!

"He's a Basketball Jones," Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said of Henderson. "He understands what Rupp Arena's all about."

Henderson's quick-draw shooting and excitable-boy personna took the Southeastern Conference by storm last season. He led the Rebels to their first NCAA Tournament since 2002, and their most-lopsided NCAA Tournament victory ever (57-46 over Wisconsin).

On Tuesday night, he leads Ole Miss in a game at Kentucky.

It's a matchup as much of man and moment as team versus team. Kennedy noted that Henderson's father, a high school coach in Texas, won't be able to watch what happens. His team has a game.

"He was really bummed," Kennedy said of the elder Henderson.

As for the younger Henderson, Kennedy said, "I know he'll be excited. Does that mean he'll play well? Does that mean he'll play poorly? Who knows? I just know he'll shoot the bunch of balls."

Kentucky is aware. Assistant Coach Orlando Antigua, who substituted for John Calipari in the day-before-the-game news conference, said, "He's going to get his shots up. We know that. It's what he's done his whole career there at Ole Miss. We just have to make it difficult for him."

Kentucky did just that last season in Oxford, winning 87-74 as Henderson made five of 19 shots (two of 11 from three-point range). When a reporter made the oxymoronic suggestion that UK contained Henderson by forcing him farther out onto the open court, Antigua said, "He shot it out to 30 feet. I don't know you can push him out any farther than that."

Henderson, who leads the SEC and ranks second in the nation with an average of 4.28 three-pointers (UK averages 5.4 as a team), has made at least one in a school-record 54 straight games. He made 10 (in 23 attempts) against Oregon on Dec. 8.

"He doesn't have a green light, he has no light," Antigua quipped. "And he's really active. And those guys are really looking for him."

There's a method to the bombs-away approach. Ole Miss expects the threat of Henderson pouring in three-pointers to warp opponents' defenses. At the worst, the other four Rebels can play four-on-four on offense. Point guard Jarvis Summers benefits.

"Unquestionably our MVP," Kennedy said earlier this season. "Jarvis does a good job playing into those gaps (created by defense on Henderson)."

Kentucky will want to pick up Henderson early in transition. On an SEC coaches' teleconference Monday, Calipari cited transition defense as an "issue" for the Cats. Missouri scored 18 fast-break points on Saturday. That included six scores within nine seconds of a UK basket.

"That's something we can control," Antigua said of the opponent scoring after UK puts the ball in its basket. "That's identifying the problem and fixing it. And not relaxing. Not looking to celebrate. Just recognizing we made a basket and we have to get back. Unless we're pressing, everybody should be sprinting back."

Kennedy voiced concern about the problems presented by UK's big guards. Kentucky's starting perimeter is expected to be three 6-foot-6 players. Henderson is 6-2, and Summers 6-3.

Henderson represents a second straight challenge for Kentucky's defense. At Missouri, the Cats could not contain — but survived — the SEC's leading scorer, Jabari Brown, who had a career-high 33 points. Teammate Jordan Clarkson added 28.

The rest of Missouri's players made only six of 17 shots (one of seven from three-point range).

Henderson emboldens his teammates.

"He needs to play with a certain swagger," Kennedy said. "His teammates seem to play better off Marshall Henderson's swagger."

Undoubtably, Henderson leads the SEC in swagger. His gestures — more than a few directed at fans — caused angst among traditionalists.

"Very enthusiastic," UK guard Andrew Harrison said of Henderson. "Very, like, dramatic player."

Then there are the off-court brushes with the law, the most recent a traffic stop in May. Oxford police reportedly found cocaine and marijuana in his car, though not enough to prosecute, police said.

The behavior, on and off the court, detracts from Henderson's ability.

"He's an unbelievable competitor," South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said. "I don't think anybody gives him the credit he deserves. He elevates the players around him because of his competitiveness. I have a lot of respect for what Marshall Henderson does as a player."

When asked why Henderson plays with such emotion, Kennedy said, "That's just who he is."

Now, Henderson comes to Rupp Arena.

"The energy in that building, which will all be for Big Blue, he has the ability to channel that in a positive way," the Ole Miss coach said. "The challenge for all of us is to be focused on the right things."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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