McRae, Henderson ready to duel in Knoxville
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Seven months after rooming together at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy, Mississippi’s Marshall Henderson and Tennessee’s Jordan McRae are meeting again under much different circumstances.
Henderson will try giving Mississippi (14-5, 5-1 SEC) its fifth straight victory and McRae will attempt to bounce back from one of the worst performances of his career Wednesday when two of the Southeastern Conference’s premier shooters face off at Thompson-Boling Arena.
This game also gives McRae a chance to avenge Tennessee’s two losses to Mississippi last season. Henderson scored 32 points in the Rebels’ 92-74 victory in Knoxville and 28 in their 62-56 triumph in Oxford.
Although McRae and Henderson weren’t made available to the media this week, McRae said this summer that the Durant camp gave him a different impression of Henderson, whose fiery personality and fearless shooting have made him the SEC player that opposing fans love to hate. McRae called Henderson ”one of the most normal guys I’ve ever met.”
”He’s a cool dude. He doesn’t run around the room throwing up the `Landshark.’ ” McRae said, referring to a gesture Henderson made to the crowd while leading Mississippi to the SEC tournament title. ”He’s a normal guy. It kind of surprised me how normal he was.”
McRae has scored 18.5 points per game despite shooting 1 of 15 and scoring a season-low five points Saturday as Tennessee (12-7, 3-3) fell 67-41 to No. 3 Florida, which was ranked sixth at the time. Henderson averages 18.7 points and leads the SEC with 4.2 3-pointers per game.
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin laughed and shook his head when he was asked how to defend Henderson.
”He’s a threat at all times, whenever he touches the ball,” Martin said. ”He does a great job moving without the ball. I mean, he’s a threat on the floor. You have to respect him. But, how you defend him? You have to make his looks tough. You have to corral him. But he does a good job of getting fouled and throwing his body into you. He’s a smart basketball player. I don’t think he gets enough credit for his intelligence for the game, the way he moves.”
Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy is equally complimentary of McRae.
”McRae is as an explosive scorer of a scorer at the wing as you’re going to see in our league,” Kennedy said. ”He’s a guy that really has a chance to be player of the year in our league.”
McRae also apparently has extra motivation in the wake of the Florida game. Martin said that McRae worked out with some teammates Saturday night when the Vols returned to campus after that 26-point shellacking.
While McRae had his worst performance of the season Saturday, Henderson scored 19 points and irritated Mississippi’s in-state rival in an 82-63 victory over Mississippi State. Mississippi State coach Rick Ray apologized for comments he made to Henderson as the senior guard checked out of the game in the closing seconds.
Henderson has been getting more help from his backcourt mates lately.
Tennessee’s starting backcourt of McRae, Antonio Barton and Josh Richardson shot a combined 2 of 29 against Florida. Barton is shooting 3 of 20 and averaging 3.7 points over Tennessee’s last three games. Richardson has shot 5 of 21 and averaged 4.7 points per game over that same stretch.
Henderson is teamed up in Mississippi’s backcourt with Jarvis Summers, who is averaging 18 points per game and shooting 51.7 percent.
”Marshall and Jarvis are playing as well as any guards, not only in the SEC, but (in all of) college basketball,” Martin said.
AP Sports Writer David Brandt of Oxford, Miss., contributed to this report.