KNOXVILLE — Cuonzo Martin was barely 48 hours removed from suffering his worst loss in three years as basketball coach at Tennessee, yet his weekly lunchtime Monday news conference focused only partly on the Volunteers’ 67-41 humbling at sixth-ranked Florida.
With a visit from red-hot Ole Miss and lightning-rod shooting guard Marshall Henderson next on the schedule, there’s hardly any time for Tennessee to rehash and sulk over the debacle in Gainesville.
“It’s a tough loss,” Martin said. “We didn’t play well. Sometimes you don’t play because you didn’t play well, but in this case you’ve got to give the opposing team a lot of credit for you not playing well. They were physical, they were tough, they battled, they were ready to play and they did a great job.
“It’s too tough to spend a lot of time when you’ve got 18 games in league play. You touch on it, you hit it, you make your guys understand it and you hit the key points; you learn from it, you keep moving. You’ll have you an opportunity again.”
The demonstrative, sharpshooting Henderson certainly won’t feel sorry for Tennessee tonight, especially since he’ll be returning to the site of his 32-point coming-out party in a 92-74 Ole Miss win last January.
Martin hopes his players remember that game and how Henderson soaked it all in during the game’s final moments.
“If they don’t,” the coach said, “something’s wrong.”
Henderson became the SEC’s villain with his cocky on-court antics last season, but he led the Rebels to the SEC tournament title and an NCAA tournament berth and nearly into the Sweet 16. He was suspended for the season opener and for the Rebels’ first two SEC games this year. Ole Miss hasn’t lost since his return against LSU two weeks ago.
After transferring from junior college, the former Utah player averaged 20.1 points per game and took the SEC by storm in his debut season, and he’s back at it again this season. In 10 of 16 games, he’s taken at least 10 3-pointers. Henderson has had big scoring games against Oregon (39 points), Louisiana-Monroe (26), LSU (25) and Western Kentucky (23).
“He’s going to do his thing,” Martin said. “He makes shots. He takes tough shots, and the thing about Marshall’s shots, whether he’s making or missing shots, his shots impact the game.
“He shoots a lot of ‘em, he can make a lot of ‘em and he’s a threat at all times whenever he touches the ball. He does a great job of moving without the ball. He’s a threat on the floor, and you’ve got to respect him, but how you defend him, you’ve got to make his looks tough.”
And sure enough, as Henderson gestured to the home crowd as he was substituted out of the game late in Ole Miss’s 82-63 win against Mississippi State in Oxford on Saturday, Bulldogs coach Rick Ray barked something at him, and a video clip of it went viral online this week.
Martin said he has no problem with Henderson’s style.
“If you are doing it in a way [where] you’re competing and there is not a technical foul and it doesn’t take away from your teammates,” he said, “then I am fine with it.”
Tennessee watched the first half of Saturday’s loss on Sunday, and Martin said multiple players went to the gym to get some work in after the team got back to Knoxville on Saturday night.
Martin believes his team still has the chance to do “special things” this season, but those chances would take a hit with another home SEC loss.
“That was the best defense I’ve seen since I’ve been a part of Tennessee basketball,” Martin said of Florida. “I thought they did a great job as a team defending, and they were ready for the challenge. We didn’t play well.
“We’ll bounce back.”
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 ...