Marshall Henderson, Jon Hood

Marshall Henderson struggled, bigger deal for Ole Miss is injuries

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All anyone is going to talk about after Ole Miss lost to Kentucky 87-74 on Tuesday night is how poorly Marshall Henderson played.

He was 5-19 from the floor and 2-11 from three. He took some deep, contested threes as well as some questionable, off-balance looks from inside the arc. After missing a couple of open looks in the first few minutes of the game, Kentucky was able to contest every shot that Henderson released by switching all of the screens set for him.

Henderson is going to get plenty of criticism after this game. Considering the flamboyant histrionics and the reputation that he developed thanks to a couple of twitpics and an unforgettable GIF, he had quite a bit of hype and expectation entering this game. He clearly failed to live up to those expectations. Some of it is because he had an off-night, but much of the credit has to be given to Kentucky’s defense. They knew they had the nation’s best shotblocker at the rim. They knew they could afford to gamble on Henderson, taking him out of the game and daring the rest of the Ole Miss roster to beat them.

And it worked.

Murphy Holloway struggled to score, Reginald Buckner couldn’t finish around the rim and Jarvis Summers matched Henderson with a 5-19 shooting time. If it wasn’t for the best game of Ladarius White’s career, the Rebels would have been blown out.

That said, I think the criticism of Henderson is too much. For starters, those that are calling him out for poor shot selection need to go back to watching GIFs and Sportscenter highlights. This is how Henderson plays. He takes some dumb shots and he fires away on some questionable threes because he can make dumb shots and questionable threes. He’s got range, and he’s not afraid to flaunt it.

In the second half of the game, however, Henderson stopped gunning. He took 14 shots and nine free throws in the first 20 minutes and just five shots and three free throws in the second half. He played the role of the decoy, running off of screens to favorable mismatches for the big men while burying himself in the corner to create driving lanes for White. That was just as important in the Ole Miss comeback as anything.

He also got to the free throw line 12 times — his second highest total on the season — and didn’t commit a single turnover.

Henderson had an off-night shooting the ball, but beyond that he played a fairly typical game by his standards and played a significant role in the 16-0.

To criticize him for poor shot selection or bad defense is to admit you haven’t watched him play this year. He’s become must-see TV this year because he’s lacks a conscience shooting the ball and is liable to do just about anything on the court, not because he’s an all-american or a future lottery pick. If anything, he showed a willingness to be a teammate and a piece in an offense on Tuesday night, although you won’t see that written anywhere else today.

There’s bigger issues for Ole Miss coming out of Tuesday’s game, however: injuries.

The Rebel’s two most important reserves — guard Nick Williams and big man Aaron Jones — both went down with what appear to be serious injuries. Jones suffered a non-contact knee injury when his right knee buckled as he was trying to plant. Williams has been dealing with plantar fasciitis, but his injury looks like it could be a snapped ligament in his foot.

That means that after losing to Kentucky at home, the only two relevant opponents the Rebels have in SEC play this season — road trips to Florida and Missouri — will come in the next 10 days and, in all likelihood, without their top two reserves.

For a team looking to convince the country that they aren’t overrated with an inflated record against mediocre competition, that’s bad news.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.