KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Wisconsin’s vaunted defense did its job, holding Mississippi to its lowest point total of the year.
It was the suspect offense that failed. The Badgers put up 59 shots against Ole Miss on Friday, but made only 15 of them. So Bo Ryan’s team headed home after a 57-46 loss that snapped a 6-year string of first-game wins for one of the NCAA’s most consistently successful programs of the past 15 years.
“A lot of times with a good team like that, things will spiral away from you,” said Sam Dekker, who had 14 points and was the only Badger in double figures. “They just outworked us in the last 8 or 9 minutes, really took it to us, and we didn’t know how to handle it.”
Marshall Henderson, Mississippi’s flamboyant guard, missed 12 of his first 13 shots and was 0 for 6 from 3-point land when he finally connected for a long 3-pointer. Then he remained unusually stoic and businesslike while scoring 17 of his 19 points in the second half and leading the Rebels to victory.
“We knew Henderson was going to get going,” said Dekker. “I thought we did a good job on him in the first half making him hit tough shots. He got hot, did what he does. I think that was part of the difference.”
To Ryan, it was a season-like weakness catching up with the Badgers.
“We won a lot of close games, beat a lot of good teams,” said Ryan. “But again, it’s not a team that really shot the ball well all year. It happened again.”
Marshall had a simple explanation for why he remained so stoic and businesslike, keeping under wraps the on-the-court antics he’s become famous for.
“You can’t go a little crazy when you go one for your first 17,” said Marshall, the leading scorer in the Southeastern Conference. “I know what I can do and what I can’t do, and that’s not the time, no.”
Henderson’s futility reached its zenith with about 12 minutes to go when he fumbled the ball in the Wisconsin back court right into the hands of Dekker, who raced down the court with Henderson on his shoulder and laid the ball in for a 36-30 Badger lead.
But on Ole Miss’ next possession, Henderson finally connected on a 3-pointer, and the game quickly changed.
“There’s no question Marshall Mania affects the psyche of the other team,” said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy. “How can you avoid it? Marshall this, Marshall that. We live with Marshall Mania. So for us, it’s normal, another day at the office.”
It was the first NCAA Tournament win for the Rebels (27-8) in 12 years.
Henderson had scored only two points on 1-for-11 shooting in the first half before he finally heated up. But it’s not the first time Henderson’s been known to go ice-cold in the first half and erupt in the second.
“He made that first shot, and I celebrated,” said Kennedy. “We’ve seen his show before. A lot of guys, you go 0-for-5 and it’s going to be a long night. If you go 5-for-5 it’s going to be a great night. He’s been on both ends of the spectrum. As long as he’s taking shots within our offense, our guys understand that. We were getting him looks. Then once he makes one or two, we keep feeding him.”
Murphy Holloway had 10 points and nine rebounds, and Reginald Buckner had nine points and 12 rebounds for the Rebels, who will meet No. 13 La Salle in the third round of the West Regional on Saturday.
Jared Berggren had eight points, nine rebounds and three blocks for Wisconsin (23-12), and Traveon Jackson finished with eight points, five boards and four assists. Ryan Evans added five points and seven rebounds, and Ben Brust chipped in six points, four boards and three steals.
After Buckner missed two free throws and the Rebels rebounded an errant Wisconsin shot, Henderson hit his second 3-pointer before Jared Berggren answered for the Badgers with a 3 of his own.
Holloway put the Rebels ahead to stay with a tip-in and another bucket. Then, after one of Wisconsin’s 11 turnovers, Jarvis Summers connected for Ole Miss.
Holloway said the Rebels never lose faith in Henderson.
“I just know whenever I get an offensive rebound or a steal, Marshall is coming to the ball,” said Holloway. “So I just look for him every time. He’s the player I want to go to.”
In their previous game, Henderson had scored most of his points in a come-from-behind 66-63 upset of Florida in the finals of the SEC tournament.
“For me, I’m so proud of the fact this group continues to grind and fight and persevere, which to me is the name of the game,” said Kennedy, who won the first NCAA game he coached.
Henderson, whose 88 percent foul shooting led the SEC, hit two free throws at the 5:13 mark for a 45-41 lead, then the two teams swapped turnovers before Buckner pulled down a defensive rebound and Henderson canned a jumper for a 47-41 lead.
An unsightly first half ended with a Wisconsin turnover and a 25-22 lead for the Badgers.