Last year’s team was, at times, abysmal on offense. They averaged 66.9 points per game. They made the fewest three-pointers in conference play. They were the worst free-throw shooting team in the SEC, and one of the worst in the NCAA. They averaged .98 points per possession, which was eighth in the SEC.
But, all of that has changed. Ole Miss leads the SEC in scoring at 82.4 points per contest. They have made the fourth-most threes and are fifth in free-throw shooting. Plus, their points per possession is up to 1.11, which is second in the SEC.
And it has all been triggered by junior guard Marshall Henderson.
The former Junior College National Player of the Year leads the SEC in scoring at 18.9 points per game. He leads the conference in three-point attempts and makes. He leads Ole Miss at the free-throw line, knocking down 86 percent of his free throws.
He only scored 11 points in the Rebels upset win over then 10th-ranked Missouri on Jan. 12, but head coach Andy Kennedy gave him credit for senior forward Murphy Holloway’s 22-point performance.
“We’ll try to get (Holloway) to his left hand, and when you have Marshall in the corner,” Kennedy said. “They’re not going to help off of him.”
Not only does Henderson space the floor for Ole Miss, or light up Knoxville for 32 points in his conference debut, or nail a 30-foot plus buzzer-beater to save Ole Miss at Vanderbilt, but he brings confidence to this team, one that was lacking in that aspect last year.
The three seniors on this team, Holloway, guard Nick Williams and forward Reggie Buckner are all averaging career highs in points. Sophomore point guard Jarvis Summers is averaging more assists and fewer turnovers this season. The whole team is playing at different confidence level this season, and it stems from Henderson.
He has a multitude of celebrations, from his unbroken stares into the crowd, to his flashing of the layup gang sign, to paying tribute to the Ole Miss defense with the landshark, to sliding and running through cheerleaders and dance team members.
He’s been criticized for his celebrating, by a few Ole Miss fans, a lot of opponents’ fan and even media members, but Henderson has no plans of stopping.
And he shouldn’t stop.
His celebrating and taunting may cost Ole Miss this year. He could receive a technical, or let his emotions get the best of him as it appears to have in his complicated collegiate career.
But he has given Ole Miss fans a player to latch on to. The fans have responded to him, and the team’s success by selling out both home conference games this season, despite the long winter break.
He has given Ole Miss a national identity. From ESPN to CBS, the college basketball world has taken notice of Henderson. And Ole Miss is being talked about as in the NCAA Tournament, not out. Yes, national exposure matters. If Ole Miss is “in,” then that means they have control, unlike previous years when Ole Miss is found scraping in the last few games, just hoping for a bid.
Henderson should keep shooting, keep throwing balls into the crowd after big wins and keep making winning plays. Because on the court and off the court, Marshall Henderson is the best thing to happen to Ole Miss basketball.
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