KNOXVILLE — Jordan McRae received a text message on Sunday from Marshall Henderson.
Tennessee’s top scorer and the Ole Miss star were roommates and teammates at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy last summer, and Henderson had a little reminder for McRae.
“He told me he was gonna be down here,” McRae recalled.
“As if I forgot.”
Henderson probably can expect a text message from McRae after Wednesday night.
The Volunteers bounced back from their worst performance under Cuonzo Martin with perhaps one of their best performances of the coach’s third season by weathering Henderson’s 26-point barrage in a wire-to-wire 86-70 win at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Coming off a 26-point loss at Florida on Saturday, Tennessee was 11-of-20 from 3-point range and got 26 points from McRae to snap the Rebels’ four-game winning streak.
“I think it was good for our morale,” Vols guard Josh Richardson after scoring 16 points and hitting four 3s.
“Florida was a bad game for everybody,” he added. “I think we can agree on that. Shots were falling today. We were upset that night, but basketball games are so close together we can’t dwell on it.”
Tennessee (13-7, 4-3 SEC) jumped out to an early 16-6 lead and eventually led by 19 when Henderson, the mercurial sharpshooter who became the SEC’s villain with his checkered past and cocky on-court demeanor last year, shot the Rebels back into the game.
The same player who eviscerated Tennessee for 60 points in two games last season didn’t hit his first shot until the 6:24 mark of the first half, but it didn’t take him long to warm up.
Instead of a breakaway layup, he pulled up for a triple after stealing a pass near midcourt.
An off-balance rainbow from in front of Tennessee’s bench capped an 11-2 run by Ole Miss (14-6, 5-2) late in the first half.
“A lot of people don’t like the way he plays,” McRae said, “but if you don’t like him, you have no choice but to respect how he plays. Tough shots or not, they’re gonna go in.”
Tennessee answered Henderson’s 3 to open the second with a 7-0 spurt before Henderson drained a couple more treys — his sixth and seventh of the night — to bring Ole Miss back. When LaDarius White’s corner 3 splashed through the net with roughly 14 minutes left, Ole Miss was down just five.
“He’s one of the few guys — probably the only guy in this league, in my opinion — that you can’t fall asleep on down 15, down 20, because he shoots, he shoots them deep and at any time,” Martin said of Henderson.
“He’s one of those guys, it doesn’t matter what the lead is.”
Tennessee responded with an 18-4 run to put the game out of reach. Jeronne Maymon scored eight of his 12 second-half points during the stretch, and McRae splashed four of his six 3s as the Vols closed out the visitors.
The Vols were just 1-of-19 on 3s at Florida.
“I know our guys can make shots,” Martin said. “Like I said before, some times you have to give credit where it’s due, and I thought Florida had a lot to do with what took place on Saturday. They played with energy and passion and toughness from start to finish.
“They did kind of like what we did tonight on both ends of the floor.”
McRae hit the gym early Sunday morning to work on his game after an abysmal 1-of-15 shooting night against the Gators.
“I wanted to go in there and just get back a rhythm to help our team,” he said. “The worse thing after Florida was feeling like I didn’t help the team in any way. Night’s like that are gonna happen.”
In addition to his 26-point performance, McRae was better defensively on Henderson than Richardson, Martin said.
“If that’s what Coach said, then I’m cool with it,” McRae said with a smile.
He and Henderson were mostly teammates last summer, and McRae said the two were yapping at each other throughout Wednesday night’s game.
“Seeing him hit them kind of shots on my team is better than seeing him hit ‘em tonight,” McRae said.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said his team knew it was facing a “dangerous animal” in Tennessee coming off the Florida debacle, and the hot-shooting Vols certainly got back on track at least temporarily.
“I think the biggest thing is that guys were working on their game after the Florida game, guys who normally wouldn’t work on their game as much,” said Vols big man Jarnell Stokes, who had 13 points and 14 rebounds.
“It paid off today. It paid off yesterday with guys hitting shots in practice. We were asking like, ‘Where was this at against Florida?’ Hopefully it continues on and guys learn their lesson.”
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
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 ...