I've doubted Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss for too long. I won't make the same mistake when the Rebels face La Salle in the round of 32 on Sunday evening.
I doubted he would be able to lead them to an NCAA tourney bid with a few wins in the SEC tournament.
He led them to a tournament championship.
I doubted Ole Miss could beat Wisconsin in the round of 64, too. Surely, I thought, the Badgers would suffocate the Rebels with their stifling defense and grind out a slow, steady win. Surely, Wisconsin would frustrate Henderson into jacking up low-percentage shots and render the brash star a non-factor.
Instead, Henderson scored 19 points (17 in the second half), and Ole Miss beat the Badgers, 57-46.
So I'm not going to doubt Henderson and the Rebels against La Salle. Consider me a believer.
Beyond the explosive Henderson—who is averaging 20.0 points per game this season and is turning many heads with his cocky personality—I think La Salle could simply be a bit worn out. Consider the following from the Associated Press (via ESPN):
It will be the third game in five days for the Explorers, who beat Boise State on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio in the First Four, then took the red-eye to KC and ousted No. 4 seed Kansas State before a hostile crowd on Friday night.
Even though his players are young and eager, coach John Giannini admits fatigue is a concern.
I'm always concerned about being fresh. If someone saw our public workout a couple of days ago, it was the most boring one ever because we really didn't do anything. We did our preparation in a walkthrough in the hotel. I'm always concerned about being fresh, no question about it, especially right now.
In a game that should be very tight and between teams that appear evenly matched on paper, every little advantage matters. Clearly, the Rebels will have an advantage in the fresh legs department.
Ole Miss also comes into this game scorching hot, having won six in a row and nine of its last 11 games. And the Rebels are undeniably talented. The bigger surprise may be that Ole Miss nearly missed the tournament, not that it went on a late-season run and is now a win away from the Sweet 16.
Which team wins?
La Salle won't roll over and die, of course. The Explorers are paced by their excellent guards—Ramon Galloway (17.2 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.9 SPG), Tyreek Duren (14.3 PPG, 3.3 APG, 1.8 SPG) and Tyrone Garland (12.8 PPG) are a handful for any team.
The fear for Ole Miss will be that Henderson starts out cold and stays that way, and the team never finds an answer for La Salle's guards. Henderson can lift Ole Miss past anyone, but he can also shoot the team right out of a game.
Remember, he averages 10.8 three-point shots per game—if he's ice cold, Ole Miss is in trouble.
But for now, I'm staying on the Henderson bandwagon. Every time I give up on Ole Miss, the Rebels make me look foolish. For at least one more Sunday, I'm sticking with Henderson and company.
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