COLUMBIA, Mo. - Marshall Henderson knows how to play the villain.
The notoriously flamboyant Mississippi guard has made a name for himself for more than his work on the basketball court. From taunting opposing fans, players and even coaches to his cocky demeanor to his numerous run-ins with the law, Henderson has made his fair share of enemies.
But now Henderson's play is doing the majority of the talking.
The Missouri Tigers (16-6, 4-5 Southeastern Conference) hope to keep that the focus as they face the Mississippi Rebels (15-7, 6-3 SEC) at 4 p.m. today in Oxford, Miss.
"Our guys know that we want to play the game on the court," Missouri head coach Frank Haith said. "We'll emphasize that with our team. Marshall is an emotional player, he plays with great intensity. We want to match that intensity with our play too. We don't want to get into those kind of (trash-talking) games."
Henderson continues to light up the scoreboard, pouring in 19.1 points per game, good for fourth in the SEC. The long-range bomber connects on 36 percent of his 3-pointers while launching nearly 12 of them each contest. The 6-foot-2 senior ranks 10th in the nation by hoisting a whopping 35.1 percent of his team's shot attempts.
"You just have to stay on your toes," Missouri guard Jordan Clarkson said. "Always keep your hand up, you never can relax because he's always hunting his shot. ... He's going to take shots, you just have to be there when he takes them. Make them tougher shots than what he's usually taking."
Henderson's numbers in 2013-14 are very similar to his statistics last season, a year where he made just as much noise with his play as he did with his antics. He averaged 20.1 ppg while hitting 35 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc in 2012-13.
"He's the same guy," Haith said. "He's a a really good scorer, a really great shooter. He plays with a lot of moxie, a lot of confidence. I think his hair's longer maybe, but other than that I think he's the same guy."
Henderson isn't just a one-man show. His backcourt running mate Jarvis Summers is right there with him. The 6-foot-3 junior tosses in 17.5 ppg while dishing out 3.8 assists per game. That's quite a spike from his 9.1 ppg a season ago.
"He's really improved. He's made great strides in his game," Haith said. "He plays with great pace, his numbers are really good, he takes really good shots. He's really taken the next step as a player.
"They've got a great backcourt in Henderson and Summers, like us with Jordan and Jabari (Brown)."
Henderson and Summers spearhead a Rebel team that leads the SEC in both 3-point makes (174) and attempts (476). That's good for 36.6 percent, a clip that ranks third in the league behind South Carolina (37.8 percent) and Missouri (36.7 percent).
"You have to do your work early, you have to know where the shooters are at," Haith said of stopping Mississippi's 3-point barrage. "They've got really good shooters. ... All those guys are capable shooters. We have to have great close-outs, we have to run them off the line."
It just might be a battle of the backcourts.
Brown continues to lead Missouri and the SEC at 20.1 ppg, Clarkson isn't far off at 18.7 ppg and Earnest Ross adds 13.7 ppg.
"(They) present a number of challenges with quite arguably the best backcourt in the country," Mississippi head coach Andy Kennedy said during Monday's SEC teleconference call.
The backcourt focus rings especially true with the lack of experience and production from Missouri's and Missippi's frontcourts. Of the five combined projected starters in the frontcourt entering today's game, the highest scorer is the Rebels' Aaron Jones at 6.7 ppg.
Not only does today's contest advertise as an important league tilt, the ramifications might stretch farther than that. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently projects Missouri as the final team in the NCAA Tournament, while Mississippi doesn't figure to be far out of the bubble picture.
"We're fighting for our lives now trying to make the tourney," Brown said. "If you can't get up for that you have to look at yourself in the mirror.
"It's definitely on your mind when you start losing and have a couple losses in a row (to Kentucky and Florida). We're not thinking anything is guaranteed as far tournaments. We're just trying to make sure we win the rest of these games so we put ourselves in the tournament."