While Marshall Henderson is the player on Ole Miss who steals the spotlight, in reality, the biggest reason the Rebels are in the dance is the play of senior forward Murphy Holloway.
In his second season since transferring back to Ole Miss from South Carolina, Holloway has served as a steady rock of production for his team, especially when star guard Henderson goes cold.
A Second Team All-SEC selection after leading the conference in rebounding (9.6 per game) and field goal percentage (.557 percent on the season) while ranking seventh in scoring (14.6 per game), Holloway stands at an imposing 6-foot-7 and 240-pound challenge for Wisconsin in Thursday’s Second Round game.
It was Holloway who led his team to victory in the SEC Tournament championship against Florida. With his team shooting cold from the field, Holloway kept his team in the game by scoring 12 of his squad’s 26 first-half points, using a variety of post moves from the catch to one-on-one dribbles from 10 feet out.
Finishing with a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds, Holloway’s competiveness embodies the persona that his Ole Miss team took on during its tournament run, one that solidified a tournament berth that might not have come if the team had lost. It wasn’t just desperation that fueled the post player’s performance but a thirst to prove himself.
“We had a chip on our shoulder from Missouri, they beat us really good one time,” Holloway said. “Florida beat us really good one time, and so we wanted to have a chip on our shoulder of ‘us against the world’ and thinking we’re not good enough.”
Strange, considering Holloway is more than good enough. He’s the model of an efficient offensive player and a true back-to-the-basket scorer.
“I think it took me to my junior year just to know what works, when to do it, when to make certain moves,” Holloway said in an interview with The Badger Herald.
“He reminds me a lot of the guys at Michigan State,” Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard said. “He doesn’t shoot the three …but just relentless on the glass.”
Those “guys” Gard is referring to are the Big Ten’s most talented group of true post players in Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson and Derrick Nix, who combined to record 38 points and 41 rebounds in their two games and harassed the Badgers on both ends during their two meetings meetings with the Spartans.
Holloway hadn’t gotten the chance to watch film on Wisconsin at the time of the interview, but he had high compliments for the Badgers’ posts from what he had seen on TV.
“All of them got a swag to them,” Holloway said. “They’re really good guys, they’ll play basketball at the next level whether it’s overseas or the NBA. It’ll be like going against guys like [Florida’s Erik] Murphy and [Patric] Young, NBA level guys.”
With the Badgers’ struggles against players like Holloway throughout the season, Wisconsin is going to make sure it takes away as many touches for the Rebel’s player as possible.
“You try to eliminate the amount of times he can touch the ball or limit it as much as possible and that’s not always easy to do because he moves pretty well,” Gard said. “They do a good job of finding him, and he also gets on the glass so well. He can step off eight, 10 feet and attack, he’s got some moves he goes to there.
“He’s long enough and athletic enough and nimble enough that he can make plays off you whether it’s straight line attacks or countering with the spin.”
Gard also sees that Wisconsin’s experience playing against talented big men like Indiana’s Cody Zeller and others as a great reference point when describing to the players the similarities of Holloway’s skill set to that of other Big Ten posts.
“I think this is where the games we’ve played in the league will help us because we can give some reference back to the type of the player they are,” Gard said. “We’ll prepare and try to follow our rules the best we can.”
Facing elite players isn’t anything new for this Badgers’ group, and fifth-year senior forward Jared Berggren is eager for a chance to test his skills against another skilled adversary.
“It’s our time to step up and lead,” Berggren said of the Wisconsin starting frontcourt. “I think I can provide a little more for the team.”