The marketing people at Tennessee forgot to announce it, but the price of one ticket entitles the bearer to see a basketball game and a circus Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Ole Miss star Marshall Henderson, college basketball’s ultimate sideshow, is coming to town.
Some call him colorful. Some call him obnoxious. Some call him a shameless self-promoter. Some call him a thug. Some call him things that can’t be posted on a family-oriented website. Whatever you call him, he makes baskets, makes headlines and makes opponents see red.
Ask Mississippi State coach Rick Ray. Last Saturday, as he swaggered past the Bulldog bench in the final seconds of an 82-63 Ole Miss romp, Henderson bragged, “I own this bleeping state!” Not amused, Ray snarled that Henderson should have relations of an intimate nature. The coach later issued an apology. The player, of course, did not. Inciting opposing fans, players and coaches is his shtick.
Henderson certainly accomplished that on his previous visit to Thompson-Boling, Jan. 9, 2013. He strutted around the arena as if he owned the place, taunting the Vols and the fans by prominently displaying the “Ole Miss” emblem on his chest after a made basket. And he made a bunch of them, finishing with 32 points as the Rebels routed the Big Orange, 92-74.
Fifteen days later, showing he was no fluke, Henderson scored 24 second-half points en route to a 28-point effort as Ole Miss completed a season sweep by beating the Vols 62-56 in Oxford. Again, he taunted the Vols as he torched them.
Tennessee’s players were not made available to the media this week but head coach Cuonzo Martin is pretty sure they remember how Henderson humiliated them last season.
"If they don't something is wrong,” the coach said. “He scored 32. He played well.”
As well as he played, he showboated even better. Yet, even a no-nonsense type like Martin says he isn’t offended by Henderson’s spotlight-hogging antics.
“Everybody has their own style,” Martin said, “but it's never directed toward officials and that sort of thing. It's almost like he takes the pressure off his teammates and puts it on himself. I have no problem. He's having success with it."
That’s a fact. Henderson leads the SEC in 3-point baskets at 4.2 per game. The league runner-up averages 2.9. Henderson also ranks fifth among conference players in scoring (18.7 points per game), sixth in free-throw percentage (80.0), sixth in steals (1.5 per game) and ninth in 3-point percentage (36.4).
At 6-feet-2 and 177 pounds, he isn’t particularly big or strong. Nor is he particularly fast or athletic. He is relentless, however, in working to find enough space to launch his patented jump shot.
“He does a great job moving without the ball,” Martin said. “I mean, he's a threat on the floor. You have to respect him. But how do you defend him? You have to make his looks tough. You have to corral him.”
Tennessee never managed to corral Henderson last season, even though 6-foot-6 guards Josh Richardson and Jordan McRae boasted significant height advantages. Those two will try again Wednesday night, with help from 6-foot-2 Antonio Barton and 6-foot-5 reserves Darius Thompson and Armani Moore. Constantly challenging Henderson with lanky, fresh bodies is probably the best strategy available.
“You have to put different bodies on him to give him a different look,” Martin said. “If you give him the same look every time down he'll adjust quickly and he'll make you pay."
Even when he is covered like a blanket, Henderson has an uncanny knack for getting to the free-throw line and scoring his points there.
“He does a good job of getting fouled and throwing his body into you,” Martin noted. “He's a smart basketball player. I don't think he gets enough credit for his intelligence for the game, the way he moves. And he has a good feel for the game."
Love him or hate him, Marshall Henderson is an ultra-productive basketball player who is the primary reason Ole Miss brings a 14-5 overall record and a 5-1 SEC mark into Wednesday’s game with Tennessee (12-7, 3-3).
“He takes and he makes big shots,” Martin said. “He plays with a lot of confidence. His team passes him the ball. They look for him, and they know when he gets the ball it's going up. In most cases, he's shooting it.”
True. But “shooting it” is just one act in the sideshow known as Marshall Henderson. Like his feet, his mouth goes non-stop from opening tip to final horn.
Simply put, the only way to shut him up is to shut him down.