Published Sunday, February 24, 2013
BY DAVID BRANDT
AP SPORTS WRITER
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) – Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy decided the Southeastern Conference's leading scorer could use a change of scenery, so Marshall Henderson started Saturday's game on the bench.
A few minutes later, the 6-foot-2 guard's exile was over. And boy, did he make up for lost time.
Henderson scored 28 points - and tied a school record with eight 3-pointers - as Ole Miss easily beat Auburn 88-55 on Saturday night at Tad Smith Coliseum. It was the first game all season that Henderson came off the bench, and he responded with an 8-for-13 shooting night, including 8 for 12 from 3-point range.
"It worked," Henderson said of Kennedy's decision to bring him off the bench. "I was all for it. I came off the bench and was able to be relaxed, not have a lot of pressure and just come in and knock down some shots."
And the performance might have saved the Rebels' season as they try to recover from a midseason swoon and make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.
Derrick Millinghaus scored 14 points and LaDarius White added 13. Murphy Holloway scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Rebels (20-7, 9-5 Southeastern Conference) dominated in nearly every facet.
Henderson scored 19 of his points in the first half - hitting five 3-pointers along the way - as the Rebels built a 44-27 halftime lead. The second half was just as lopsided.
The Rebels shot 27 of 50 (54 percent) from the field, 13 of 25 (52 percent) from 3-point range and 21 of 26 (80.8 percent) from the free-throw line. Ole Miss also had a 38-22 advantage on rebounds.
"I hate to be this blunt, but they just punked us," Auburn forward Allen Payne said. "They were pushing us out of the way ... We've got to be tougher."
Auburn (9-18, 3-11) lost for the 11th time in 12 games. Shaquille Johnson led the Tigers with 18 points.
Ole Miss won for just the third time in eight games and never trailed. Coach Andy Kennedy set a school record with his 145th career victory, which passes B.L. Graham's old mark of 144. Kennedy has a 145-85 record over seven seasons.
Whatever message Kennedy was trying to send to Henderson on Saturday apparently was received. Henderson - whose questionable shot selection has brought Kennedy's ire on numerous occasions - came off the bench and hit his first two 3-point attempts and was 5-for-6 from long range in the first half as the Rebels took a 17-point halftime advantage.
It was a nearly flawless performance, and a bit unexpected considering he had just suffered through a 4-for-17 game against South Carolina three days ago.
"He's put a lot of pressure on himself," Kennedy said. "He's been trying too hard, so I thought (coming off the bench) might slow him down a little."
Kennedy's 145th win comes at a crossroads in his seven-year tenure. Though it's his sixth 20-win season, the Rebels have never made an NCAA tournament under his watch and haven't been to the Big Dance in more than a decade, which is the longest drought in the SEC.
Ole Miss seemed destined to break that dubious streak just a few weeks ago. The Rebels won their first six SEC games and pushed all the way up to No. 16 in the national rankings before a recent free fall. But Saturday's convincing win over Auburn put Ole Miss back on track.
Now the Rebels might have to win all of their remaining regular-season games to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
The rest of the schedule - with games against Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Alabama and LSU - is fairly manageable. But the Rebels will need more performances like Saturday, when they simply overpowered a listless Auburn squad.
Kennedy said the Rebels aren't trying to ignore the NCAA tournament talk because it's impossible. But he said his team must focus on Wednesday's game against Texas A&M.
"You can't avoid (the NCAA talk) because it's everywhere," Kennedy said. "We don't walk around with our heads in the sand, but we try to focus on what we can control."
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