It may have been the quietest three-point shot Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson ever made.
By RANDY COVITZ
The Kansas City Star
The Rebels’ flamboyant guard didn’t punctuate it with any trash talk or gestures toward the crowd. Henderson acted like he had done it before, except in Friday’s NCAA opener at Sprint Center against Wisconsin, he hadn’t.
“You can’t go a little crazy when you went one for your first 17,” Henderson said of ending a woeful shooting day with his first three-pointer of the game that ignited the 12th-seeded Rebels’ 57-46 upset of fifth-seeded Wisconsin in the opener of Friday’s NCAA Tournament games at Sprint Center.
The victory was Ole Miss’ first NCAA Tournament win since the Rebels, 27-8, won twice at Kemper Arena in 2002. The Rebels will try to continue their Kansas City karma on Sunday against surprising 13th-seed La Salle, which shocked fourth-seeded Kansas State 63-61.
Henderson’s initial three-pointer of the game drew Ole Miss to within 36-33 with 11:25 left to play, and coach Andy Kennedy immediately called time-out. But he didn’t plot defensive strategy or make a substitution.
He used the time out to celebrate Henderson’s shot.
“Listen, we’ve seen this show before,” Kennedy said. “A lot of guys, you go 0 for 5, it’s going to be a long night. You go five for five, it’s going to be a great night.
“As long as he’s taking shots within our offense, our guys understand … Once he makes one or two … feed Henderson.”
Actually, Henderson was one of 13 from the field — and zero for six from three-point range — when he hit the three-pointer that would trigger a 19-point performance, one below his average of 20.1 that led the SEC.
But he kept on firing.
“I was just waiting for that first three to go down,” said Henderson, a spindly 6-2 junior. “A few of my shots were rimming in and out, right on the line, just a little long. Normally, when I miss, I miss short, so that was a little frustrating.
“Sometimes I laugh and say, ‘How does this happen? I’ve shot like 20 hundred million shots in my day. Now that I make the NCAA Tournament, why does this happen?”
While Henderson was struggling, Wisconsin, in their plodding, deliberate, poor-shooting style, maintained a three-to-six point lead, but the Badgers, 23-12, could not pull away.
The Rebels outmuscled Wisconsin inside, outscoring the Badgers 30-16 in the paint. And five blocked shots by Reginald Buckner, who also dominated the boards with 12 rebounds, intimidated Wisconsin into taking shots from medium range, and the Badgers shot just 25.4 percent from the field.
And, everyone on the court knew it was only a matter of time until Henderson found his stroke.
“We knew Henderson was going to get going,” said Wisconsin forward Jared Berggren. “I thought we did a good job on him in the first half, making him hit tough shots. He got hot, did what he does.
“Second half, they kind of cranked up the pressure. We folded.”
Henderson followed up his first three-pointer with another that tied the game 36-36. Berggren’s three-pointer regained the lead for Wisconsin momentarily.
A tip-in by Murphy Holloway and a steal and layup by Holloway gave the Rebels a 40-39 lead with 8:33, and then Henderson did the rest, scoring 11 points in the final 5:13.
Wisconsin never had a chance.
“For us, there’s no question ‘Marshall Mania affects the psyche of the other team,” Kennedy said. “How can you avoid it? Marshall this, Marshall that. For us, it’s another day at the office, for us, it’s trying to put guys in position to make plays.”
When the shots were not falling, Henderson said he began thinking about Pittsburgh’s fifth-year senior Tray Woodall, who scored just two points on one-for-12 shooting in the Panthers’ opening-game loss to Wichita State.
“He’s done so much for that program,” Henderson said. “He probably played his worst game. I felt so bad for him and everything that he had done, that was kind of going through my head. ‘Man, I’m a fluke.’
“Their defense wasn’t what everyone said their defense was. I just missed shots. It happens sometimes. Luckily, I got a chance to redeem myself.”