Marshall Henderson’s SEC debut won’t soon be forgotten.
The junior college transfer from Hurst, Texas, entered Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday night leading Ole Miss and the conference with 18.2 points per game.
Then he dropped 32 on Tennessee and gleefully let every person in the building know about every single point.
As a blistering 92-74 men’s basketball win for the Rebels reached its waning moments, Henderson yelled to crowd eyeing the exits, “I’m getting 30!”
He wasn’t lying.
Henderson poured in 22 second-half points and canned three 3-pointers in the final 10 minutes to turn a competitive dance into an easy waltz for Ole Miss in the SEC opener for both teams.
The Vols had no answer to the Rebels’ scoring or their chirping.
“When they’re talking and their up so many points, there’s really nothing you can say,” UT’s Jordan McRae said. “That’s just something you have to take in and remember for the next game.”
The 18-point deficit was the Vols’ worst loss at Thompson-Boling since a 90-72 loss to Kentucky on Jan. 13, 2009.
It dropped the Vols to 8-5.
They were looking to avenge a 77-72 overtime loss to Ole Miss in last year’s SEC tournament quarterfinals. Instead, the Rebels thwarted UT again, this time putting four scorers in double digits and making 21 of 43 shots from inside the arc.
Ole Miss improved to 12-2.
It did so by controlling the paint. The Rebels drew 44 free-throw attempts, outscoring Tennessee 38-17 from the line, and notched 25 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds.
“They were able to get into the lane, kind of like the Memphis game,” said Jarnell Stokes, who registered his first double-double in nine games with 15 points and 11 rebounds. “At the end of the day, we have to keep guys out of the paint.”
After trailing 38-30 at halftime, the Vols looked to mount a comeback behind McRae’s hot shooting. The junior began the night by replacing struggling Skylar McBee in coach Cuonzo Martin’s starting lineup.
He made the case to stay there.
McRae matched his career high of 26 points — set just five days prior in a loss to Memphis — and for the second game in a row did everything he could to keep the Vols afloat.
“He’ll be (back) in the (starting) lineup,” Martin said. “He’s earned it.”
Trailing 51-43 with just under 14 minutes remaining, McRae scored nine straight for UT. The problem, though, was on the other end. The Vols couldn’t get stops.
The defensive woes were enough for Martin, a devotee of man-to-man defense, to shift into a 2-3 zone.
“We were just trying something different,” the coach said.
After Tennessee cut the Ole Miss lead down to eight with 6:55 left, the Rebels went on a rampage.
They outscored UT 23-13 to close the night.
“I think each man needs to look in the mirror and take pride in our defense,” McRae said. “(Giving up) 90 points in college, that’s just a lot of points. There’s no excuse for it.”
Jarvis Summers scored 14 of his 16 points during the second-half blitz.
Tennessee vs Ole Miss, Jan. 9, 2013
After starting the night 0-for-10 from beyond the arc, the Rebels buried four of their last five attempts, pushing their lead to as many as 21 points. Twenty-six made free throws kept it comfortable.
Ole Miss came to Thompson-Boling with a 10-39 all-time record in Knoxville and a 12-game road losing streak to UT. It left with a much-needed win in early in conference play.
For UT, meanwhile, a game in Oxford, Miss., against the Rebels in two weeks is now circled on the calendar. The Rebels were not shy about celebrating their late-game onslaught. Players laughed, gestured to the crowd and enjoyed every second of the victory.
“A team like that, with them doing all that stuff at the end, I’m glad we get another chance at them,” McRae said.
A close eye likely will be kept on Henderson on Jan. 24.
“You look at his numbers, he scores 32 points but he goes 8-for-19 (from the field), 3-for-12 (from 3-point range),” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said of his leading scorer’s performance. “It’s his first road game in SEC play.”
Before the Vols can worry about a rematch against Ole Miss, they’ll have to address back-to-back-losses and an 0-1 start in the league. They travel to Alabama (8-6, 0-1) on Saturday.
“Seventeen games left,” Martin said. “The most important one is the next one.”
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn