Like mustard at a summer picnic, Josh Richardson's role in tonight's Tennessee-Ole Miss basketball game will be to cover a hot dog. It's a role he ... uh, relishes.
"I'm excited for it," he said.
That's because the hot dog in question is Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson, who torched Tennessee for 32 points Jan. 9 in Knoxville, punctuating his performance with some obnoxious behavior. He ran his mouth from opening tip to final horn. He posed on his follow-through after making jump shots. He pounded his chest, roared and strutted. He even announced to Tennessee's crowd: "I'm getting 30!"
Making Henderson's antics even more unpalatable to the Vols was the fact he led the Rebels to a 92-74 romp, handing Tennessee its worst home-floor defeat since a 90-72 loss to Kentucky on Jan. 13, 2009. Jodie Meeks scored 54 points in that game but exhibited humility. There was no humility in Henderson's game Jan. 9 but Tennessee's players won't admit they're looking to shut his mouth in the rematch.
"That," Vol guard Jordan McRae said, "is just something you have to take in and remember for the next game."
If Tennessee (9-7 overall, 1-3 SEC) is to challenge No. 23 Ole Miss (15-2, 4-0) tonight in Oxford, the Vols must keep Henderson from going off again.
So, what's the key to that endeavor?
"Guard him," Richardson said, wasting no words. "We didn't guard him last game. Our defense was just bad last game. If we come out and play like we know how to play we'll be fine."
Tennessee must have at least tried to guard Henderson last time because the Vols sent him to the foul line 14 times.
"Yeah," Richardson said, frowning at the recollection. "We were hacking and reaching. It was just a bad game."
Indeed. Henderson duped the Vols repeatedly with one of the oldest tricks in the book. With a head fake, he'd get a Tennessee defender to leave his feet. Leaning into the Vol until contact was made, Henderson would then launch a shot that would miss the basket but earn a trip to the foul line, where he made 13 of 14 attempts.
Surely, the Vols have learned not to fall for that again ...
"I hope so," Richardson said. "It shouldn't be tough to learn that. We should be a lot more disciplined on defense this time."
Although the Vols say Henderson's showboating was no big deal, they clearly haven't forgotten about it.
"It hurts but we can't dwell on that," Richardson said. "We've got to turn that hurt into intensity."
Overshadowed by Henderson's antics was the fact that Ole Miss utterly manhandled Tennessee on Jan. 9. Repeatedly beating Tennessee off the dribble, the Rebels set Thompson-Boling Arena visitor records for free-throw attempts (44) and free throws made (38). Ole Miss also dominated the backboards 47-32 en route to 25 second-chance points.
Unless the Big Orange plays significantly better tonight in Oxford than it did in the earlier meeting at Knoxville, stopping Marshall Henderson won't be enough to defeat the red-hot Rebels.
"They're a good team, one of the top teams in this league," Richardson said. "We definitely have something to prove this week. We have to come out with a lot of intensity. We definitely can't come out flat or we'll get blown out again."
GAME NOTES: The Vols are still looking for their first true road win of the season. They beat UNC-Asheville on a neutral floor in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off but lost at Georgetown, at Virginia, at Alabama and at Kentucky.... Cuonzo Martin will be gunning for his fifth defeat of a top-25 opponent tonight. His Vols are 1-1 versus ranked foes this season, having lost 37-36 at No. 20 Georgetown on Nov. 30, then beating No. 23 Wichita State 69-60 at TBA on Dec. 13.... Tennessee stands 25-22 when facing Ole Miss in Oxford, making the Rebels the only SEC program against whom the Vols have a winning road record.... Ole Miss is one of only three opponents to score more than 70 points against Tennessee this season. The Rebels hung a season-high 92 points on the Vols Jan. 9. Memphis (85) and Kentucky (75) are the only other teams to cross the 70-point barrier.... Junior point guard Trae Golden, coming off a season-high nine assists last Saturday against Mississippi State, needs five tonight to become the 13th Vol to register 300 career assists. He currently has 295 in 81 career games.... Tonight's game tips off at 6:02 Central (7:02 Eastern) and will be aired by ESPN2.