KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's players certainly haven't forgotten Marshall Henderson.
The Ole Miss guard stared down and saluted fans and boastfully pranced around the Thompson-Boling Arena floor during the Rebels' 18-point win two weeks ago.
As bothered as they were by the SEC newcomer's antics, the Volunteers were bothered more by the 32 points he scored in their building.
"You can punch him right in the mouth by stopping him from scoring," Vols forward Jarnell Stokes said before practice on Tuesday. "I feel like if we just stop him from scoring, he won't talk."
That's the biggest question for Tennessee entering Thursday night's road game against the 23rd-ranked Rebels: Can the Vols stop Henderson? The 6-foot-2 guard, who's at his third Division I program, leads the SEC in scoring at 19 points per game. In addition to his outburst against Tennessee, he scored 26 points and made the tying 35-footer at the buzzer to force overtime at Vanderbilt.
Behind the junior college transfer, the Rebels are off to their first 4-0 SEC start since the 1936-37 season.
As a freshman at Utah, he averaged 12 points per game, once was suspended for a game for punching a BYU player and earned the label of a villain from one Las Vegas newspaper columnist. While with the Utes, Henderson was questioned by the Secret Service about using $800 of counterfeit money given to him by a friend to buy 59 grams of marijuana as a senior in high school, according to the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger.
Henderson was charged with forgery and put on probation, and an unrelated violation of that probation following his transfer to Texas Tech landed him a 25-day jail sentence last spring.
Last season Henderson led South Plains College to the junior college national championship. He scored 32 points in the title game against a Northwest Florida State team coached by former Tennessee assistants Steve Forbes and Jason Shay.
"From scouting him," Stokes said, "we knew he was basically a crazy player when it comes to his shot-making ability. He'll pull it from just coming across halfcourt. We knew he was that type of player and we knew he was capable of going off."
Henderson eviscerated Tennessee in a variety of ways. After a slow shooting start, he found success coming off screens and getting into the lane and pump-faking defenders to create space for jump shots and to make 14 trips to the free-throw line. He very visibly enjoyed it, too.
His antics aside, Henderson is an undeniably talented scorer.
"He plays with great passion," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said during Monday's SEC coaches' teleconference. "We want to make sure that'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 into the season ... you're starting to see a more well-rounded version of the complete player he's capable of being."
Tennessee got the first look at Henderson's array of ability. He made only three of 12 3-pointers two weeks ago; it's the other ways he had success that caught the Vols most off guard.
"Surprise is after seven or eight points, not 32," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "After a couple, OK, you make some adjustments and then you play basketball."
Tennessee players called the 92-74 loss an embarrassment and grumbled at the Rebels' enjoyment of it, particularly Henderson's actions, but they also admitted that it was up to them to stop him.
"A lot of people were bothered by it," freshman forward Derek Reese said. "We didn't do what we needed to do on defense. That's our mindset right now, is just go out there and do what we need to do defensively."
Asked if he thought his team remembered Henderson's antics, Martin replied, "I hope so."
But the coach was more interested in his own players.
"I hated being on the other side," he said, "but this is competitive basketball and you've got to step to the plate. I didn't really think what was said or what Henderson did or wasn't doing was a bad thing. I really didn't. It wasn't my focus at all.
"I was focused on the results, and we didn't play well as a team and that was my biggest concern."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...