Whether he starts or comes off the bench, Josh Henderson maintains his mindset never changes.
His play says something different.
The Vanderbilt post player has thrived in his last two performances off the bench. On Saturday, he scored 11 points and had a career-high three blocks as Vanderbilt snapped a four-game losing streak with a 67-49 victory Arkansas at Memorial Gymnasium.
Henderson had started in the two previous games but after he went scoreless and fouled out against LSU last Wednesday coach Kevin Stallings scrapped that idea.
The message evidently hit home, as it did two weeks ago. Against Tennessee on Jan. 29, he tied a career-high with 13 points in his fifth consecutive game as a reserve after having spent time as a starter.
“[Stallings] is sending a message to work harder to get the starting spot,” Henderson said. “But at the same time, either way, if I’m starting or coming off the bench, I’m going to try my hardest when I’m in there. I’m just trying to let the game come to me and be aggressive when I’m in there.”
The ball bounced his way against Arkansas. In his first outing against the Razorbacks last month, he scored just two points and found himself on the bench at the start of the next contest.
This time around, he made five of six shots, grabbed four rebounds, including three offensive boards, and flourished against a smaller Razorbacks' lineup. Twice he scored four straight points, with three of his baskets the result of backdoor cuts after he set screens. His second four-point flurry in the second half helped Vanderbilt (9-13, 3-7 Southeastern Conference) pull away from Arkansas (14-9, 5-5), which had closed to within five.
“He did a good job of taking what we gave him and they did a good job of getting it to him,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “We were concentrating on getting to the 3-point shooters. He did a good job of slipping [to the basket] and even when he caught it, he finished off inside.”
Points haven’t come easy for the 6-foot-11 Henderson this season.
After having two surgeries over four months for a stress fracture in his left foot that cut his freshman season short, he re-aggravated the injury this preseason. He slowly worked his way back on the court, coming off the bench in the first three games before starting in the fourth against Marist.
His production, however, has been far from ideal for Commodores coaches and fans, who were used to seeing future NBA first-round pick Festus Ezeli man the post the last two years. He averages just 4.6 rebounds and 3.1 rebounds, making just 12 starts.
Vanderbilt’s biggest weakness this season has been its lack of a consistent big man. Stallings has shuffled the starting lineup five times in the last five games in search of an answer.
Along with Henderson, 6-foot-8 sophomore Shelby Moats and 6-foot-7 James Siakam all have made starts at center.
Against Arkansas, Stallings decided to ditch the true big man to begin. He moved 6-foot-9 Rod Odom from power forward to center and played small with point guard Kedren Johnson, shooting guard Dai-Jon Parker and wings Kevin Bright and Sheldon Jeter.
The maneuver appeared to pay off with a lineup with five players capable of shooting from outside. As a result, Henderson was able to sneak to the basket and score in double figures for just the fourth time this season.
“I thought he was very good,” Stallings said. “I thought he was aggressive. I thought his length bothered them some. He finished [at the rim], got some offensive rebounds. I thought Josh was real good for us [Saturday]. It’s not a secret, if we get some play and productivity out of that [center] spot, it makes us a better team.”