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ATLANTA, Ga. - Marshall Henderson wasn't himself at first.

The stage was familiar: the SEC tournament and an old foe, in-state rival Mississippi State. A split crowd cheered and booed him in pregame introductions, as expected of a neutral-site game. He shot early and often, the rim unkind.

He was given nothing, too. Mississippi State, as teams always do, denied him the ball and forced others to make plays. Bulldog guard Fred Thomas chased him everywhere, in his face whenever a shot attempt went up.

He defended Henderson tough and chirped as he did it. He tried to bait him, clapping in Henderson's face during a game break; not-so-chalantly bumped him here and there.

Had the roles been reversed, Twitter would have been a firestorm, ablaze with anti-Henderson rhetoric, his critics banging away at their keyboards with as much fervor as they could muster.

Henderson stuck to his game, though, with no emotion showing on his face. He ran through screens and shot 3-pointer after 3-pointer, struggling to get one to fall. But Thomas kept extending the bait, goading Henderson to react.

Finally, he did. Marshall Madness can only stay bottled up for so long.

"It was crunch time," Henderson said. "Shots had to be made."

And he was the one who made them. And celebrated them. And sent No. 6 seed Ole Miss (19-13) to Friday to face No. 3 seed Georgia tomorrow at approximately 8:30 p.m. CT with a 78-66 win.

Marshall Henderson
Associated Press

He hit a 3 with 13:41 to play in the second half, cutting into what had been as much as a 13-point lead for Mississippi State. He pounded the scorer's table to celebrate, and then he took a charge a few minutes later.

He leapt to his feet, beat his chest and looked in the direction of some Ole Miss fans in attendance. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, sitting courtside along press row, was but a few feet away. "Let's go!" he yelled, the Rebels within one.

Slive, instrumental in Henderson's three-game suspension earlier this season, which included a loss at Mississippi State, barely blinked.

If for only a game, Marshall Madness was back at the SEC tournament, the Rebels' lone senior finishing with 21 points, tied with teammate Jarvis Summers for best among all scorers. Ole Miss outscored Mississippi State, 43-22, in the second half. Henderson had 12.

"At the beginning of games, teams are real anxious to guard me," Henderson, who attempted 19 3s, an SEC tournament record, said. "But one thing I got on them is I never stop running."

The Rebels finished the game on a 40-15 run over the final 16:42.

"It's probably the best half of basketball, offensively, we've played in a long time," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said of the decisive second half.

"Obviously, this loss hurts," Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray said. "Obviously, losing to your in-state rival burns a little bit more."

Thomas didn't say much as Ole Miss extended its lead late, the outcome all but decided. He scored three of his 16 points in the second half, and his team, the No. 14 seed, faded into the offseason.

Henderson? He was back to old form – the form that was the catalyst in Ole Miss reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade last season. A colorful form, even if he didn't say much in his postgame press conference.

His actions were loud enough.

"Marshall is going to do Marshall," Kennedy said.

He's now scored 92 points in four SEC tournament games dating back to a year ago, when he was named MVP during the Rebels' three-day run to an SEC tournament title.

"As we made our run," junior forward Demarco Cox, who provided a spark with eight points and six rebounds in 17 minutes, said, "it was time for (Mississippi State) to take their loss."

And for Marshall Henderson to give all at the Georgia Dome, including Thomas, what they wanted. Marshall Madness. Did he ever.

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