It’s all about Marshall Henderson on Thursday. And he doesn’t even start.
The enigmatic guard and his Ole Miss Rebels will visit Manhattan on Thursday for a late 8 p.m. tipoff with the Kansas State men’s basketball team, looking to continue the momentum built from a 6-0 start.
For the Wildcats (4-3) it will be the matchup they nearly had in last year’s NCAA tournament, before getting upset by LaSalle in the second round.
But while last year’s Rebels team was centered around Henderson, his antics on the court and the frantic shooting that went with it, this year’s team is different. While Henderson is averaging 15 points per game off the bench, the Rebels core starting group is producing at the guard spots, and blocking shots and racking up rebounds in the paint.
“They seem to know their roles, they have good guard play,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “Last year I think they depended so much on Henderson. This year, him being out a little bit, the other guards kind of stepping up allowed them to not be dependable on him.
“They’re good when he’s in because he gives them, obviously, a different threat. He can score in a lot of ways, but when he’s out they still have guys that can make plays.”
When the Wildcats prepared for the prospect of playing the Rebels last season, assistant coach Alvin Brooks III took responsibility of scouting Ole Miss before and during the tournament.
Looking back to last year’s scout, Weber said the team has remained good despite losing its entire starting post presence. Instead, junior posts Aaron Jones and Demarco Cox are picking up where the others left off.
Jones is scoring six points and pulling down seven rebounds a game, while Cox is scoring eight and grabbing eight boards per contest. Ole Miss ranks fourth in the country in blocks per game with 8.3 blocks per game.
“Mississippi is good, they’re off to a good start,” Weber said. “I thought when you look at last year’s team, and they lost some guys, their big guys, we thought maybe they would be not quite as good. They might even be better than a year ago.”
The Rebels are led by sophomore point guard Derrick Millinghaus, who is averaging 15.3 points per game. Jarvis Summers is also scoring 15 points per game and making 50 percent of his 3-point attempts.
When Henderson does come on the court, Weber said they will count on senior guard Will Spradling to guard him. And when Spradling’s attention is elsewhere, it will be by committee.
“Will’s going to have a challenging day,” Weber said. “He’s got to guard the point and then when Nigel (Johnson) comes in we will put Will on Henderson. He chases better than anybody else and he’s older and he’s been through it.”
Spradling said the key to defending Henderson is in chasing him around the court and forcing him into bad shots. While making bad shots might be Henderson’s forte, Spradling said he knows he won’t make them all, and the defender can’t allow the ones he does make to affect his ability to defend.
The senior said he’s been through defending players similar to Henderson before.
“Keiton Page kind of shot it like him — not to the extent where he was putting up 14 3s in one game,” Spradling said comparing Henderson to the former Oklahoma State guard, “but he was putting up a lot of 3s and I guarded him for two years.”
After turning in a 4-3 record to start the season, and winning their first game of December, Weber said they look at the upcoming month as a chance to turn the season back in the right direction. And Thursday’s game can be a step towards that.
“We’ve talked about December being a real positive month for us and taking a step of improvement,” Weber said. “This is an opportunity to gain some confidence and start feeling good about ourselves.”
Junior forward Thomas Gipson said they have big goals for the month of December, meaning they have to take care of business against the Rebels.
“Our main focus is to try and go 7-0 in December and this is going to be a big step for us, a big challenge,” he said. “Hopefully we can rise to the occasion and win.”