On to the Next

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Marshall Henderson was bouncing off the walls, smiling ear-to-ear in the home locker room in the bowels of Bridgestone Arena following Ole Miss' 64-62 win over Missouri late Friday night.

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He could barely contain himself. Ole Miss had pulled off a thrilling comeback, overcoming a 14-point second-half deficit to defeat the Tigers in what was a do-or-die game for the Rebels.

"I'm crazy in the head," he said, the Rebels off to the semifinals of the SEC tournament for the 11th time in school history. "I can play another game right now. Let's go. I'm crazy."

He answered question after question. He reflected back on passing up a last-second 3 to get the ball to senior Murphy Holloway, who found freshman point guard Derrick Millinghaus for a game-tying 3-pointer.

Make no mistake; Henderson badly wanted to take the shot. He said as much. The play was designed for him, as was the final play of regulation. But he was denied the ball, allowing Millinghaus to sink his eventual game-winning floater.

He spoke of Missouri players not shaking hands following the game, of how a rivalry was born. During the game, he did as he always does: popped his jersey, taunted a section of Missouri fans and even trash-talked the Tiger bench.

"I'm not going to sit here and say we probably didn't say a couple things to them in the ear when the final buzzer sounded," Henderson said, "but you can come shake our hands. We'll shake their hands. It's whatever. We get the last laugh in the end."

This was Marshall Henderson, playing the heel. The CM Punk of SEC basketball.

"Come on, now," Missouri head coach Frank Haith said, when asked of some of his players not shaking hands afterwards. "I'm not getting into that."

On and on Henderson went. Finally, he paused.

He was asked about the character of this Rebel team. Ole Miss (24-8) was left for dead after losing to in-state rival Mississippi State two weeks ago. The loss was the second for the Rebels to an SEC bottom-feeder, following their loss at South Carolina two games prior.

Henderson and teammates celebrate
Josh McCoy

Those sub-200 RPI losses aren't going away. When the NCAA selection committee takes a look at the Rebels' resume on Selection Sunday, those losses will be there, just as their 2-4 top-50 RPI record and 8-6 top-100 RPI record will be there.

"We're really kicking ourselves, because we should've won the SEC," Henderson, who scored a game-high 27 points, said. "We lost three road games to three of the four bottom teams in the SEC. We should've won the thing and be sitting real nice right now.

"You can't change the past. Take what it is, control what we can control."

After the disappointment in Starkville, Ole Miss responded when it easily could have folded. Senior forward Reginald Buckner said the team came together. The Rebels rallied. What had to be done was simple.


"The two losses against (MSU and South Carolina), we kind of looked over our opponent like it was going to be an easy game," he said. "There's not an easy game in the SEC. They put on their pants leg the same way we do. After we lost those two games, we said we can't lose no more."

The Rebels haven't. They're winners of three straight, with none more important than Friday. Ole Miss, according to some bracketologists, including Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com, is in the NCAA tournament after beating Missouri.

But there's work left to do. Ole Miss is the final team in Lunardi's "last four in," meaning a loss to Vanderbilt would likely leave them out in the cold come selection time. Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com still has the Rebels on the outside looking in.

"I think it puts us in the tournament," Holloway said following the win over Missouri. "But we're still going to keep grinding. I've been waiting five years. I done went to different schools and everything just to try to make it to the tournament."

Up next is No. 10 seed Vanderbilt, a team with an RPI of 106. The third-seeded Rebels check in with the No. 51 RPI, according to WarrenNolan.com. The Commodores (16-16) upset No. 2 seed Kentucky on Friday.

The Rebels are facing Vanderbilt in the semifinals for the second straight season. The winner moves on to face the winner of Florida-Alabama in the championship game on Sunday. Ole Miss last took home a tournament title in 1981.

Marshall Henderson
USA TODAY images

Tip-off for today's game is set for 2:30 p.m. CT on ABC.

"Vanderbilt is a good team," head coach Andy Kennedy, who has led Ole Miss to the SEC tournament semifinals three times, said.

"(Friday's) game against Kentucky didn't surprise me. We're going to have to play equally as hard. It's going to take an equal effort for us to have an opportunity to play again on Sunday."

In the only meeting between the teams this season, Ole Miss pulled off a come-from-behind overtime win. Down 13 points with eight minutes remaining, Ole Miss closed the game on a 34-12 run.

The win was the first for the Rebels in Nashville since 2001. Henderson was bouncing off the walls following that one, too. His buzzer-beating, 30-foot 3-pointer tied the score, sending the game into overtime.

"We know they're going to be a tough team," he said. "The home town behind them. They're good. So just be ready to play tomorrow."

That shouldn't be a problem for Henderson. He was ready to play again as Friday turned to Saturday inside Bridgestone Arena, his team one step closer to the NCAA tournament.

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