OXFORD, Miss. — Tennessee made no secret of its desire to stop Marshall Henderson’s shooting — and his theatrics.
It worked for a while, but didn’t last.
Henderson scored 28 points, including 24 in a second-half explosion, as No. 23 Mississippi rallied to beat Tennessee 62-56 on Thursday night at a raucous Tad Smith Coliseum.
It was a frustrating night for the Volunteers, who did everything that they needed to pull the upset in the first half, but watched it slip away as Henderson hit shot after shot down the stretch.
“More than anything, Marshall did a good job making shots,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I thought for the most part, we did a good job chasing him, but he stepped up and made big shots so you’ve got to give credit where it’s due.”
Henderson is the Southeastern Conference’s leading scorer with 18.9 points per game and he put on a show in the second half, making six 3-pointers to push the Rebels (16-2, 5-0 SEC) to their eighth consecutive victory.
“All the sudden he got combustible and started knocking down shots,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “We tried to ride him as hard as we could.”
Henderson scored 32 against the Volunteers just two weeks ago in a win in Knoxville, and Tennessee didn’t have much more success in the second meeting. The high-energy, sometimes motor-mouthed sharpshooter can occasionally get underneath the skin of opponents. In the lead-up to Thursday’s game, Tennessee made it clear stopping Henderson — and his theatrics — was the first priority.
Henderson said he was aware of Tennessee’s plan thanks to messages sent to him by fans on Twitter. That’s when he made a decision.
“I’ll take a game off from talking and just let my game talk this time,” Henderson said before getting in one barb. “We’ll beat them 10 times out of 10.”
It’s only the second time Ole Miss has started 5-0 in SEC play.
Reginald Buckner added 10 points in a foul-filled game that made both teams go deep into the bench.
Tennessee (9-8, 1-4) led for much of the game — until Henderson got hot. Jordan McRae led the Volunteers with 26 points while Trae Golden added 11.
The shots weren’t falling for either team early, and a constant stream of fouls didn’t help the rhythm.
By midway through the first half, the starting big men for both teams were relegated to the bench because of foul trouble.
Tennessee made a few more shots than the Rebels to take a 25-18 lead into halftime. It was the fewest points by an Ole Miss team in the first half since 2009.
“It was what I anticipated,” Kennedy said. “Tennessee is a physical team, very fundamentally sound, especially defensively. It’s very difficult to beat someone two times, especially in the span of about a three-week period.”
One reason Ole Miss couldn’t find the basket was the Volunteers’ lockdown defense on Henderson in the first half. He was matched step for step by a host of Tennessee defenders early and scored just four points in the first half — all on free throws.
He got going early in the second half, hitting two 3-pointers to finally spark the Rebels’ offense. Nick Williams made another 3-pointer to give Ole Miss a 33-32 lead with 14:15 remaining.
But the Rebels couldn’t stop fouling McRae and the 6-5 junior just kept sinking free throws. He hit eight free throws in a row midway through the second half to help the Vols pull ahead 46-40 with 8:51 left.
That’s when Henderson picked up the Rebels and carried them by himself, hitting shot after shot. He finished 7 of 16 from the field, including 6 of 15 from 3-point range (40 percent).
After shooting just 4 of 23 in the first half (17.4 percent), the Rebels bounced back with a 14 of 26 (53.8 percent) performance in the second half.
Tennessee had 21 turnovers and missed four crucial free throws in the final few minutes. The Volunteers outrebounded the Rebels 41-30.
“The one thing that’s good is you put yourself in position to win,” Martin said. “Now you’ve just got to make the plays.”