The League: Ole Miss' surprising start
Published: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 12:09 a.m.
It's been quite a while since Mississippi won its first five men's basketball games in the Southeastern Conference.
Consider the last time Ole Miss was 5-0 in the SEC, the Golden Gate bridge had just opened, gas cost 10 cents a gallon and the average price of a house was $540.
You have to go back to 1936-37, when Mississippi finished 20-6 overall and 7-3 in the SEC, to find an equal start in conference play for the Rebels.
“Every game has really been a different way in which we've been able to find a way to win,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “Starting off at Tennessee, then coming home to Missouri and then at Vandy where we get a last-second shot to get to overtime and then we come home and have a very strong second half against a good Arkansas team.”
It helps that Ole Miss has the SEC's leading scorer and leading rebounder. Senior power forward Murphy Holloway is averaging a league-high 10.4 rebounds per game, while junior guard Marshall Henderson is the SEC's scoring leader at 19.4 points per game. Henderson, a junior college transfer who began his career at Utah before transferring to Texas Tech, has given the Rebels the perimeter threat they've lacked in recent seasons.
Henderson has already shown a flair for the dramatic, hitting a 30-footer at the buzzer to send Ole Miss into overtime in its win at Vanderbilt.
“He brings the ability to make shots and also the ability to force the opponent to gameplan based on his offensive abilities,” Kennedy said.
Henderson also doesn't hide his emotions, which sometimes rubs opponents the wrong way. As a freshman at Utah, Henderson threw a punch at former BYU guard Jackson Emery.
“He plays with great passion,” Kennedy said. “We want to make sure that it's channeled in the right direction, but we certainly don't want to do anything to temper that.
“For me, it's just about focus with Marshall. No one has ever questioned his abilities. It's not surprising to me that he's been able to come in and have the impact that he's had from day one with his ability to make shots. It's just a matter of him staying focused. And I think as we've gotten deeper in the season, I guess now we're 17 games in, I think you're starting to see a more well-rounded version of the complete player he's capable of being.”
Kennedy also credited the rest of his team's maturity. Sophomore point guard Jarvis Summers has progressed, senior Nick Williams has been valuable accepting a bench role and senior forward Reginald Buckner has been more consistent.
It all could add up to Kennedy leading Ole Miss to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his seven seasons as coach. Kennedy has led Ole Miss to the NIT in five of his previous six seasons, but has yet to break through to the field of 68.
At No. 23, Ole Miss is ranked for the first time since 2010. But Kennedy doesn't want his team to be satisfied yet.
“It's just about establishing an identity as a team and understanding the approach with which we have to take to be successful,” Kennedy said.
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