Cuonzo Martin on playing guard at Purdue and the play of his guards
Coinciding with a Tennessee media relations representative hollering, "Last question," sophomore guard Josh Richardson succinctly summed it all up with three salient words.
"It's payback week."
Ole Miss is owed some.
Its lead guard, brash and brazen gunslinger Marshall Henderson, is owed some.
Alabama could get a taste, too.
Thanks to faltering through a 1-3 start in SEC play, Tennessee's men's basketball team has work to do and early league losses to avenge.
The road to redemption begins today at Ole Miss' Tad Smith Coliseum (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.) before running east back to Knoxville for a rematch with Alabama.
It was only 15 days ago when the Rebels walked into Thompson-Boling Arena and scorched the Vols in a 92-74 statement-making performance. Along the way, Henderson, the 2012 National Junior College Player of the Year from South Plains College in Levelland, Texas, emphatically introduced himself to the SEC.
In the conference opener for each team, the 6-foot-2 junior shooting guard poured in 32 points, including 22 in the second half. He didn't do so quietly. Henderson danced, gestured and jawed as orange-clad UT fans sat red with anger.
Asked Tuesday if his Vols remembered the display, Tennessee coach Cu
onzo Martin quickly fired, "I hope so."
If there were ever a week to make Henderson and the Rebels pay, this is it. Sitting atop the SEC, No. 23 Ole Miss (15-2, 4-0) is ranked for the first time since 2010.
Henderson is as streaky as he is showy, but he backs up his look-at-me exploits with a league-best 18.9 points per game and 64 made 3-pointers. Just last week, he canned a 35-foot buzzer-beater to force overtime in an eventual win at Vanderbilt. Then he scored a team-high 16 in a victory over Arkansas.
"We feel like if we stop him from scoring the ball, we won't have to worry about his mouth or any of his antics," said UT sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes. "We just have to stop him."
That duty will fall upon Richardson, the Vols' top perimeter defender. Asked about Henderson, Richardson praised his ability to penetrate the lane as much as his long-range shooting.
When Henderson drives and draws contact, he follows it up by shooting 85.9 percent from the free-throw line, tops in the SEC.
Meanwhile, Stokes will do battle with Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner, one of the top rebounding duos in the country combining for 18.7 per game.
In the teams' Jan. 9 meeting, the Rebels drew 44 free-throw attempts, outscoring UT 38-17 from the line, and notched 25 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds.
"They're very physical if you're not ready to rebound on every possessions," Stokes said.
But that's not all Holloway and Buckner offer. The former leads the team with 30 steals and averages 15.8 points per game. The latter scores 10.4 points an outing and ranks second in the SEC with 49 blocked shots.
All those offensive weapons on coach Andy Kennedy's roster are loaded by talented guards Jarvis Summers and Nick Williams. Add it together with a few serviceable role players and the Rebels average 82.4 points, third-most in the nation.
Payback won't come cheap for Tennessee.
If anything, Henderson will do all he can to assure of it.
"We expect it this time," Stokes said. "We expect him to run his mouth. He's definitely put more pressure on himself by doing a lot talking, being one of the guys people don't like in the SEC. Guys really want to defend him."
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn