Lots of players in the Southeastern Conference present a physical challenge, but few are as taxing mentally and emotionally to match up against as Mississippi senior Marshall Henderson.
Undoubtedly, Henderson will try to get under Missouri’s skin Saturday at the Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford, Miss., where the Tigers face a potentially pivotal test with an eye toward the NCAA Tournament next month.
Henderson is a prolific scorer. He ranks fourth in the SEC, averaging 19.1 points per game, and leads the conference with 81 three-pointers made in 19 games. Missouri’s Jabari Brown ranks second with 65 three-pointers in 22 games.
Of course, Henderson, who also ranked ranks sixth in the SEC with 1.6 steals per game, is at least as prolific when it comes to talking trash and throwing opponents off their game.
“Our guys know that we want to play the game on the court,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “We’ll emphasize that with our team. Marshall is an emotional player. He plays with great intensity, but we want to match that intensity with our play.”
The Tigers, 16-6 and 4-5 in the SEC, have played with an even keel throughout the season, so engaging in Henderson’s tactics isn’t likely to bode well. It’s simply not their style.
“You have to try not to get caught up in the emotion, make sure you stay calm and composed,” junior Jordan Clarkson said. “You know he’s going to talk and do stuff to get the crowd ignited and just really play hard. You’ve just got to stay focused on what you’re there to do.”
Brown agreed. He said getting sucked into Henderson’s head games is exactly what he wants.
“You can’t really get caught up in that,” said Brown, who leads the SEC in scoring at 20.1 points per game. “That’s what makes him good. Everybody’s different. For him, when he’s running around there and saying all kinds of crazy stuff, that helps him play good. I ain’t mad at him. If that’s what you’ve got to do to play well, then do it. But I’m not going to get caught up in his games. I’m just going to play.”
Collectively, Missouri needs to follow Brown’s lead.
The Tigers also need to defend the perimeter aggressively against a Rebels squad that leads the SEC by making 7.9 three-pointers per game.
Of course, keeping track of Henderson will be key, especially when Missouri opts to play zone defense.
“If you play zone, you’ve just got to shade towards him and you’ve got to know not to help off on a guy who can’t shoot and leave (Henderson) open in the corner, stuff like that,” Brown said. “It’s knowing where he’s at at all times. We can still play zone how we’ve been playing, but it’s just a matter of finding him.”
Henderson isn’t shy about shooting from anywhere, so even a moment’s inattention can prove fatal for a defense.
“You’ve got to stay on your toes and always keep a hand up,” Clarkson said. “You never can relax, because he’s always hunting his shot.”
And if he starts making shots, all bets are off.
“For a guy who hits shots, seeing the ball go in once or twice is all it takes sometimes, so we just have to have a hand up and make every shot tough,” Brown said. “He’s going to hit shots. He takes a lot of them and he’s a good shooter. … We just have to make sure all of them are contested.”
Guarding Henderson well would go a long way toward ensuring a road win for a Tigers team in desperate need of every win it can get.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has projected Missouri as the last at-large team in the field of 68 for the NCAA Tournament, a status that is likely to change with another loss.
“We’re hanging on for our lives, trying to make the tournament right now, so every win is very important,” Brown said.