Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year three times.
Henderson's start provides big spark
Arkansas forward Ethan Henderson (24) takes a shot in the lane Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, over Missouri players during the second half in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas forward Ethan Henderson went from playing 30 seconds against Missouri on Saturday to playing 30 minutes in the Razorbacks' 86-69 victory over Tennessee on Wednesday night at Walton Arena.
Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman decided to give Henderson his second career start against the Volunteers, and his play demanded that he stay on the court.
Henderson, a 6-8 sophomore from Little Rock Parkview, had three offensive rebounds in the first 3:13 against Tennessee -- one more than the two the Razorbacks combined for in 40 minutes of their 78-68 victory over Missouri.
Arkansas came into the Tennessee game averaging an SEC-low 7.6 offensive rebounds per game. Henderson finished with four offensive rebounds.
"Something we haven't been that good at all year is getting offensive rebounds," Razorbacks sophomore guard Isaiah Joe said. "But Ethan just brings energy to the team. He got us off to a great start this game."
Arkansas jumped out to a 14-1 lead less than five minutes into the game and stayed ahead the rest of the way.
"We knew last year what Ethan is capable of doing, and now for first time the fans are seeing what he can do," Joe said of Henderson showing glimpses of his potential in practice. "Now it's his time to shine, and he took it to heart."
Razorbacks junior guard Mason Jones joined Joe and Henderson in the postgame interview room and commented on Henderson's play talking directly to his teammate.
"You had four offensive rebounds?" Jones said to Henderson in a surprised tone. "Man, you're tough!"
Henderson scored two points against the Vols, but he had a career-high nine rebounds and matched his career-high with three blocked shots. His contributions were significant with 6-6 senior starter Adrio Bailey playing 12 minutes before fouling out.
"Ethan got 30 minutes because he played really well," Musselman said. "He did a great job on pick-and-roll coverages.
"Going back and evaluating the film, he did a great job also of fronting the post against [John] Fulkerson. I thought he altered some of Fulkerson's shots because [Henderson] is so quick off the floor. He did a better job fronting the post and making it difficult on the catch than anybody.
"So therefore he stayed in the game and kept playing."
Henderson helped himself stay in the game by limiting his fouls.
When Henderson made his first start at Florida last week, he put up some good numbers -- 7 points and 3 rebounds -- considering he played 10 minutes before fouling out.
Against Tennessee, Henderson had three fouls.
"I just really [stuck] to the game plan," Henderson said. "Hands up and body up. If we can front, then I'll front. If we can three-quarter them, then three-quarter them. But if I get behind them, then I try not to foul, to stay vertical and try to block the shot after [an opponent] jumps.
"But really, the game plan was for me to just go out there and play hard because I know myself. Everyone else on the team knows what I can do, so I've just got to go out there and show what I can do."
Musselman said it's important for a player on defense to show the officials his hands.
"The last five practices we've been holding a towel above our head in our shell defense," Musselman said of a drill the Razorbacks first used in training camp. " And for two days of prep for this last game we used the towels even when we defended their sets."
Prior to starting against Tennessee, Henderson had averaged 5.0 minutes in 27 games in his Arkansas career. He played in 15 of the first 27 games this season, but Musselman said Henderson has been coming on in practice.
"He's a young, developing player who didn't get much of an opportunity last year, which a lot of freshmen don't," Musselman said. "And then same thing this year.
"But he started picking up our terminology. We've seen a more focused player. We've seen tremendous growth in him coming into the gym at off hours.
"I just think he's taking the game really, really serious of late."
Musselman said Henderson also has helped himself by being more vocal.
"When a player doesn't say much in practice, you wonder how much are they really grasping what we're doing," Musselman said. "He's been one of our most talkative players over the last two-and-a-half weeks, and when he's verbalizing stuff, he lets us know, 'Hey, I understand the whole picture of what we're doing.'
"That's what you want from a young player."
Henderson said making his first start at home was special.
"It kind of boosted me a little bit," Henderson said. "Being able to start at home is a big thing.
"I'm from Arkansas and it's my first time starting in Bud Walton. I feel like I have more to prove. I have no room for error.
"I have to go out there and just play hard and block shots and get rebounds and do things that add up at the end of the game."
Jones said it was "good to see Ethan doing Ethan things" against Tennessee.
"It was just the fact that the coaches started to trust him and Ethan finally trusted himself and trusted his work," Jones said. "Ethan is now starting to work out and do the good things that we need him to do for this team."
Musselman said whether Henderson stays in the starting lineup at Georgia on Saturday depends to a large extent on how the coaching staff decides to divide up the Razorbacks' man-to-man defensive assignments.
"We don't have to trot that starting lineup out until 12 minutes before tipoff in Athens," Musselman said. "I think what we want to do is really dissect matchups."
The key for Henderson, Musselman said, is to keep improving.
"What you want from any young player is to continue to see him grow," Musselman said. "Most importantly, you want to see him gain confidence so that when he steps out on the floor against Georgia, he should be a more confident player and more sure of himself than he even was going into that Tennessee game."
Arkansas at Georgia
WHEN 5 p.m. Central
WHERE Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Ga.
RECORDS Arkansas 18-10, 6-9 SEC; Georgia 14-14, 4-11
TV SEC Network
Sports on 02/28/2020
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