The Change-Up

Marshall Henderson did something Saturday against Auburn he had never done before in his basketball career.

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He came off the bench.

A "coach's decision," according to a school spokesperson, but Henderson had discussed such a move before. He approached Nick Williams after the Rebels lost at South Carolina. Henderson had made just 4 of 17 shots in a game that significantly damaged the Rebels' NCAA tournament hopes.

Williams and Ladarius White, he proposed, would start. Head coach Andy Kennedy was thinking along those lines, too, so he sat Henderson down in his office. He'd be the sixth man against Auburn.

"I was all for it," Henderson said. "Came off the bench, I was able relax and come in and knock down some shots. From there, just kept going in."

An understatement if there ever was one.

He subbed in at the 16:18 mark in the first half. Thirty seconds later, he drained the first of back-to-back 3s. He was just getting started.

The junior guard, who entered the game leading the SEC in scoring, totaled 28 points in a 88-55 Ole Miss win, including 8 of 12 from 3, which tied Keith Carter and Chris Warren for the most 3s in one game in school history.

Marshall Henderson
USA Today images

"That was a genius move, wasn't it?" Kennedy quipped, his team now 20-7 overall and 9-5 in SEC play. "I think he's putting a lot of pressure on himself. Sometimes you can try too hard. I'm just trying to slow him down a little bit."

So, should we anticipate Henderson coming off the bench from here on out?

"We probably played our best game all-around," Henderson said. "It worked. We just won by 33 points. Why change something when things haven't been going too well lately?"

Saturday was weird like that.

Kennedy said the decision to sit Henderson had more to do with putting his five most experienced players on the floor: Jarvis Summers, Williams, White, Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner. But really, the game was different in a lot of ways, not only in Henderson coming off the bench.

Ole Miss was reeling as it welcomed Auburn to Tad Smith Coliseum, having lost five of its last seven games, none more deflating than the one-point loss in Columbia on Wednesday. The Rebels eliminated their margin for error at South Carolina, and with four games remaining and their NCAA tournament fading, Kennedy had to get creative.

Why? Because Ole Miss has to win. And win. And win.

"After the South Carolina game, we lost and we're all down on ourselves. The whole fan base jumped ship," Henderson said. "We've got to do the same thing we did today. We win the last few games at the end of the season, we're in the tournament.

"All the fans out there that think we're not in the tournament, we're still in the tournament. Y'all can still come. But if not, we don't care. We do it for us."

Ole Miss has won at least 20 games in six of seven seasons under Kennedy. The Rebels had all of seven 20-win campaigns in the 96 seasons prior to Kennedy taking over in 2006.

Want more weirdness? In the same week message boards were filled with speculation of who would replace him at season's end, Kennedy became the winningest coach in Ole Miss history, surpassing B.L. Graham with his 145th win.

Andy Kennedy
Bruce Newman

"When I think of winning 145 games at Ole Miss, I immediately think of all the people who have been a part of those wins," Kennedy said. "From the many players to my staff to our leadership at this great university, these wins are a reflection of each and every one of them."

But the NCAA tournament is what coaches are judged by, as Kennedy has said before. And any way you look at, from every angle, Ole Miss is all over the bubble.

In his latest bracketology, Jerry Palm of has Ole Miss as the first team out. The Rebels are one of the last four in, according to ESPN's Joe Lunardi. They're remaining opponents consist of Texas A&M, at Mississippi State, vs. Alabama and at LSU.

Alabama lost at LSU in three overtimes today. Mississippi State was destroyed at home by Vanderbilt, 72-31. Texas A&M lost in four overtimes to Tennessee at home.

Ole Miss can't take another loss. Period.

"You can't avoid it," Kennedy said of the NCAA tournament talk. "It's everywhere. We don't walk around with our head in the sand. What can we control? The reality is, we've got to control these next four games on our schedule. At the end of the day, the numbers have to make sense."

Ole Miss would do well to not look at its resume, where it stacks up with those remaining teams vying for a bid. Just win. Winning cures all.

And if it takes getting weird to do it, well, get weird. Saturday worked well enough.

"One good thing about this team, even if we've had some tough losses," Henderson said, "no one's pointing fingers at anyone. The only fingers that are being pointed are right back at ourselves. I've never been on a team of guys that are so hard on themselves.

"We're always trying to keep each other up. There's only four games left and we're right in it. There's two weeks left. We've got to go balls to the wall and get into this tournament."

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