Three weeks into the SEC docket, Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson has clearly staked his claim for the conference’s newcomer of the year award.
And it’s most exuberant trash talker, too.
After sinking two game-winning free throws in overtime for a 63-61 victory at Auburn on Saturday, Henderson raced over to the student section and violently popped his jersey as the locals hollered unprintable responses.
One fellow even left Henderson, who is the SEC’s leading scorer at 21.3 points per game, a parting gift: A raised middle finger.
Did the display bother Rebels coach Andy Kennedy?
“I’m probably more concerned with his shot selection than him popping his shirt,” Kennedy said.
Over the past two weeks, Henderson, who isn’t afraid to keep firing even when shots are caroming off the rim, has helped spur No. 16 Ole Miss (17-2, 6-0 SEC) to a first-place tie with Florida and will be key entering a key four-game stretch starting with an 8 p.m. visit tonight from Kentucky.
“We’re always going to keep the hunter mentality,” Kennedy said. “For us it’s about trying to take advantage of opportunities. It’s the reason we’ve been on the outside looking in more times than I can remember.”
On Jan. 15, Henderson splashed home a 35-foot 3-pointer to force overtime in an 89-79 victory at Vanderbilt, racing around the floor with his tongue out and jaw agape screaming as his teammates gave chase.
Again, that really doesn’t bother Kennedy?
“We’ve had a number of conversations with Marshall, and I know it’s difficult for people that just see him in brief periods to completely get him,” Kennedy said. “The passion is coming from a good place. Obviously, we want to make sure it doesn’t affect his focus.”
The emotion Henderson, who transferred from South Plains Junior College in Texas, plays with is coupled with providing Ole Miss a perimeter scorer to complement an experienced inside duo of senior forwards Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner.
So far, Henderson has obliged, hitting 35.7 percent of his three-pointers this season to rank sixth in the SEC and his nearly four 3-pointers per game leads the conference.
“I was counting on him, Kennedy said. “We needed a guy that could do what he does, and that’s make perimeter shots, and based on his ability to stretch the defense allows us to do some spacing things behind him.”
Florida worries Martin
Fresh off a 21-point rout of Arkansas, South Carolina turns around for a road trip to Florida at 7 p.m. Wednesday against the Gators, who lead the nation in defensive efficiency at .81 points per possession and are allowing only 48.1 points per game in SEC play.
Needless to say, but coach Frank Martin isn’t enthused.
”You see just how sound they are on both ends of the floor,” Martin said. “It’s depressing. What makes them better defensively, is on offense they don’t turn it over and take good shots, which allows your defense to set.”
Georgia on upswing
After an 0-3 start, Georgia has started to steer itself on a better course after a 59-52 victory at Texas A&M, a victory where the Bulldogs( 8-11, 2-4) used a 16-2 run out of the locker room to take a 15-point lead early in the second half.
Georgia coach Mark Fox viewed the burst as a clear hint his young squad is moving beyond relying solely on sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who ranks second in the SEC at 17.3 points per game to go with 6.4 rebounds.
It also followed on the heels of using a 5-0 spurt with less than five-minutes remaining to pull away for a 67-58 victory against LSU on Jan. 19
“In the LSU game, we seemed to grow up when LSU made a challenge,” Fox said. “Similiar in the game last Saturday, we just seemed to have a little more confidence late in the game about what wee needed to do and what we could do. Hopefully it’s just a sign of maturity.”
LSU will likely be without the services of freshman guard Corban Collins and senior forward Eddie Ludwig, both of whom are recovering from concussions.
“I don’t expect either to be back this week, but I will know more (Monday) after meeting with our trainer,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “Both of those guys will have a chance to see the doctor early part of this week to get another assessment.”
Kentucky freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein underwent a minor procedure on his knee two weeks ago, but is still doubtful for UK’s game Tuesday against Ole Miss, coach John Calipari said.
“He’s been going really hard, and he will travel with us to Mississippi,” Calipari said. “Don’t know if he’ll play, probably doubtful, but he’ll be on the court today some.”
Missouri coach Frank Haith said it’s possible injured forward and leading scorer Laurence Bowers could play Wednesday against LSU, but he and trainers are waiting to see how the senior responds to contact and full-speed sessions in practice.