Florida defense faced challenge in Henderson

Dripping sweat and still trying to catch his breath at times after the game, Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin insisted he was fine. Covering the Southeastern Conference's leading scorer Marshall Henderson is a tough job. The consensus of Florida players and coaches after the game was that Wilbekin guarded Henderson well — and the junior still managed to put up 25 points against Florida.

That's what makes Marshall Henderson dangerous.

The Gators knew he wasn't afraid to pull the trigger once he crossed half court. Even when he took his crazy, off balance three-pointers, there wasn't much that Florida could do. Hands in his face and bodies flying at him, there wasn't anyone in the O'Connell Center that could've slowed Marshall Henderson.

He came in averaging 19.3 points per game, but he was a volume scorer. On Saturday night, all of his crazy shots went in, totaling 25 points on 8-for-15 shooting from the field and 7-for-11 from behind the three-point line. His shot fake got Florida players off balance to open up the few clean looks he actually had.

Even the times when Wilbekin stayed with him stride-for-stride, Henderson would bomb a deep three-pointer that seemed close to scraping the rafters. The better the defense got, the more zoned in Henderson became.

"He got nothing easy," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "He's shooting double-pumpers in. He can have all those he wants. Scottie did a great job on him. Give Henderson credit because he made some really, really hard shots. I give him a lot of credit. He's a hard guy to defend because he makes some difficult shots."

Henderson heard from Florida fans all night

And Donovan was right. It didn't come easy for Henderson. But it still came in a big way. He and Murphy Holloway, who contributed with 15 points and eight rebounds, were the only players to score more than eight points for Ole Miss.

As Florida pushed its lead out to as many as 23 points near the midpoint of the second half, there was still an uneasy feeling in the gym. The threat of Henderson being on the floor meant the Rebels were never out. As the lead continued to expand, Ole Miss continued to run its star shooter off as many screens as possible to try getting him open looks.

"That's a real great shooter," said Florida guard Mike Rosario, who added 14 points for Florida. "He's moving off screens and getting open. (His teammates) do a great job of setting screens. When you're guarding a guy like that, it's tough. He can shoot from all over the floor and it doesn't matter how deep it is. You've got to try to do a good job."

The Gators tried their hardest to set up the defense to push Henderson to his right and break up the rhythm of his shot. Even when the play looked to be defended well, his quickness was often enough to break the play and bring it to a more comfortable position on the floor.

It got to the point where there just wasn't much Florida could do. Play good defense, try to make Henderson uncomfortable and just hope he missed shots.

"It was tough guarding him," Wilbekin said. "I was trying my best on defense, but he still got shots. I have respect for him that I didn't have before the game. He's a good guy, too. With all the antics, he seems like a good guy."

The defense Wilbekin provides has continued to bring energy to the Gators. His teammates recognized and appreciated the job he did on Henderson, even if it didn't matter much in his final numbers. They've seen it all year. The energy Wilbekin provides is the spark plug the Gators need and what makes one of the nation's best defenses work.

"He's our heart and soul," Florida guard Kenny Boynton said. "Despite Henderson's (25) points, I think he did a good job on him. He hit some tough shots and got a couple foul calls, but (Wilbekin) did a great job on him.

"Scottie has been doing that since his freshman year. It's his identity."

The respect was mutual. Henderson came to Gainesville with national television pieces done about him this week and multiple national stories written about him. His antics have been displayed across televisions and computer screens across the country.

The Gators didn't know what exactly they were getting into by playing against him. A Florida official even grabbed a microphone an hour and a half before the game and talked to the student section about avoiding an emotional conflict with Henderson.

After the game, Henderson was giving hugs to Florida players and telling them how much he respected the team. He spent time after the game telling the media the same thing.

"I think (Florida) will contend for the national championship," Henderson said. "We have seen how they have been blowing people out. They execute perfectly. They make open shots and then they make tough shots. They're a really good team, that's why they're ranked No. 4 and will probably move up. I see them being No. 1 in the country by the end of the season."

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