‘He's our playmaker'

Ole Miss was left for dead, the air sucked out of Tad Smith Coliseum after Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope sank a 3-pointer.

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The Rebels, who entered the game on a two-game losing streak and having lost four of their last five, were down by eight to a .500 Georgia team with just over three minutes remaining.

Ole Miss' NCAA tournament hopes, all the promise of the 2012-13 season, all but out the door, as if it was one of the many fans who headed for the exits after Caldwell-Pope drilled what looked like the dagger.

Because the game was over, right? The season, too, for that matter. Ole Miss wouldn't be able to survive this, a loss to Georgia and its RPI rank of 119 at home. A resume-crushing loss. Add another year to the decade-long NCAA tournament drought.

Then the real Marshall Henderson stood up.

"He's our playmaker," head coach Andy Kennedy said.


As if it wasn't abundantly clear already, Ole Miss lives and dies with Marshall Henderson. Not just his points, but his fire - his chest slapping and saluting and yelling towards the student section after big plays.

For two weeks, as Ole Miss struggled to keep its head above water, that Marshall Henderson was absent. Yes, he averaged 20.6 points per game. However, the colorful personality, the damn-the-consequences Henderson disappeared, saying little or nothing. He scored just 10 points at Texas A&M and 16 at Missouri. He shot no better than 36 percent in those games.

Marshall Henderson
Bruce Newman

But when Ole Miss needed him the most, on Saturday night with a season on the brink in the first must-win game of many must-win games to follow, he emerged, scoring Ole Miss' final 14 points, including 10 free throws over the final 3:36.

Ole Miss won, 84-74, outscoring Georgia by 10 in overtime. Henderson? He had a team-leading 25 points. This after scoring just five points in the first half after sitting out the last 13 minutes with two fouls.

He was 14 of 14 from the free throw line.

"If it's all the same, it's Saturday night," Henderson said afterwards, bouncing into the media room for a brief appearance. "I'm out."

And so he went. He didn't have to say much. There were celebrations to be had, even if Ole Miss (19-6, 8-4 SEC) was the favorite against Georgia (12-13, 6-6), expected to beat the Bulldogs in a game that not so long ago likely would've been penciled in as a no-doubt win.

The Rebels were dominated on the glass, 45-30, and Georgia shot 48.3 percent from the floor. Conversley, Ole Miss made just 38.1 percent of its shots, 6 of 20 3-point attempts, but found a way to win. Winning, with March around the corner, is all that matters.

"As painful as that was at times, this is what we needed," Kennedy said. "It's as if we had flat lined and they brought out the paddles. Boom, jolted us back to life. There was energy in the locker room. Those guys had energy. I think this is the impetus that we need to finish strong."

The win was a cause for optimism for a downtrodden group. And Henderson, finally back to fist-pumping and cheering on teammates and chirping throughout the game, acted as the mascot.

After his one-quote postgame appearance, he threw his hands up and sprinted down the hall. A few minutes later, in walked Ladarius White. If Henderson couldn't speak for himself, White would speak for him. He knows what Henderson means to Ole Miss. Everyone does.

"Losing, man, stressful. We needed this win," he said. "Marshall, I love Marshall, man. He's a very emotional player. When he makes shots, it seems like it just gives the team another boost, you know? I can't explain."

Marshall Henderson
Bruce Newman

I'll explain for him.

If Ole Miss is to cling to its NCAA tournament berth - and, yes, Ole Miss is still a tournament team - it needs Henderson to be himself.

All out, all the time, with no regard for what others think of him. A combustible sort who oftentimes jacks up crazy shots and runs around the court as if his hair is on fire when those shots go in.

The Rebels are at their best when they think the world is out to get them. Same goes for Henderson. They play the underdog well.

Kentucky changed everything, a loss on a national stage that sent Ole Miss into a downward spiral. Georgia could very well prove to be the get-right game.

"He was happy we won," White said of Henderson. "Losing, it's stressful. I guess he's going to go celebrate. Winning is fun."

No kidding.

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