KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Try to forget Marshall Henderson for a moment. Forget all about the frequency with which he jacks his shot -- and jaw. Forget about that pittance of facial hair he's trying to grow like some pasty gangster.
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“If I don't pick this up,” Ole Miss' guard said. “This will be my fault.”
Welcome to the dark side of this tournament's Slim Shady. No, not that dark side. To his credit, Ole Miss' free-talking junior pretty much shuts up when he's not making shots. And there was a lot of silence 8 1/2 minutes into the second half when Henderson had missed 12 of his first 13 shots.
After 11 years out of the tournament Ole Miss was involved in a grinder, down four. Against the bruising Badgers a four-point deficit seemed like 14 with Henderson clanking.
“All it takes is one,” teammate Nick Williams said. “When he got that one, oh boy.”
Henderson made only 6 of 21 from the field (19 points), but simple math will tell you he made them at the right time -- 5 of 8 in the final 11 1/2 minutes of Mississippi's 57-46 win over the Badgers. It's no secret the SEC's leading scorer needs a few shots to get his 20.1-point average (almost 15 per game). It's a surprise that Henderson had to take the second-most shots of his Ole Miss career to get the Rebels over the hump.
Another 12 seed beat a five seed but that was hardly the story. (Twelve seeds are 3-1 against five seeds this week.) Henderson has turned a basketball nobody into a national story. The Rebels will play either La Salle or Kansas State in a round-of-32 game on Sunday. The winner advances to the West regional in Los Angeles.
When Henderson finally nailed his second field goal -- a three with 11:22 left -- coach Andy Kennedy called timeout, in his words, “to celebrate.”
“We've seen this show before, it doesn't matter,” Kennedy said. “A lot of guys, you go 0 for 5 it's going to be a bad night. You go 5 for 5 it's going to be a great day. He's been on both ends of the spectrum. As long as he's taking shots within our offense our guys understand that.”
Ole Miss won its sixth in a row, looking like the hungrier team. The Rebels have been sliding on and off the bubble for most of the last month. They weren't in for sure until Sunday's SEC tournament title game win over Florida.
“We embraced the grind two weeks ago,” Kennedy said. “As a result we're winning basketball games.”
Like all great shooters, Henderson lacks the conscience needed to stop firing when he's having an off day. For the first time since last Friday, Henderson was allowed to appear at the postgame presser. Perhaps humbled by that bad shooting day, there were no verbal fireworks on or off the court.
“People don't know he's a cool, chill dude,” Williams said. “But on the court he turns into this animal.”
For the game's first 28 1/2 minutes, that animal would have been a dog. Wisconsin was being Wisconsin, chasing Henderson all over the court with 6-foot-6 forward Mike Bruesewitz who had a five-inch height advantage. The Badgers weren't so much as defending him as just trying to get a body in front of him.
“Coach Kennedy told me I needed to be a -- what is it -- serial killer?,” Henderson said turning to his coach during the postgame press conference.
“We won't say that in this environment,” said Kennedy who got his first tournament win in his 238th career game with the Rebels.
Just did, coach. Henderson delivered the dagger with 2:48 left in a game that could have been picked up and plopped down in the Big Ten. The teams combined to miss 79 of 116 shots. There were almost 50 more rebounds than field goals between the two teams.
With his team leading by three, Henderson jacked up a 25-foot three to take the heart out of the Badgers. It's not that hard to figure out the Rebels. They're a jump shooting team that rebounds well. Wisconsin was outdone by their own style. Ole Miss forwards Reggie Buckner and Holloway combined for 21 rebounds. Most tellingly, Mississippi outrebounded the Badgers 26-17 in the second half.
“They didn't handle the physicality the last five to seven minutes,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said of his team. “To me, it seemed like the game changed and our guys didn't react as well as they did.”
In a game that fit Wisconsin's style -- first one to 50 -- the Rebels outbadgered the Badgers.
With some help, eventually, from their leading shot jacker who rested his jaw for once.
“We knew Henderson was going to get going …,” Wisconsin's Jared Berggren said. “It doesn't take that much to get a player like that to get going.”