Henderson, Alwal headline trophy finalists
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 12:00 PM
Both reigning C Spire Gillom and Howell Trophy winners return as finalists in 2014, but Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson and Mississippi State's Martha Alwal will have to close strong to again capture the title of best college basketball player in the state.
The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum announced last week the finalists, and both 2013 winners face heavy competition.
For the Howell Trophy, given annually to the best men's player, finalists include Henderson and his Ole Miss teammate Jarvis Summers, plus Southern Miss point guard Neil Watson.
"I think they are three great players," Hall of Fame director and former Clarion-Ledger sports columnist Rick Cleveland said. "Outstanding players. I think they are probably the three best players in the state. I think the writers, broadcasters and scouts who voted did a great job."
Henderson, a senior guard from Hurst, Texas, leads the SEC and ranks third in the nation in 3-pointers, making 4.5 per game. He ranks third in the league in scoring (19.5 ppg), fifth at free throw percentage (.818), eighth in steals (1.5/game) and 10th in 3-point FG percentage (.367).
Summers, a junior guard from Jackson, has shown dramatic improvement this season over last, raising his scoring average (17.1 from 9.1), his field goal percentage (49.7 from 40.4), and his 3-point percentage (47.1 from 34.0). He is the only SEC player to rank in the top 10 in scoring and field goal percentage and also in the top 4 in assists. He ranks fourth in the league in assists with 3.8 per game.
Watson is the distributor in a balanced scoring attack that has Southern Miss sitting at 23-5 and with a top-40 RPI. Watson leads the team with an 11.4 scoring average, leads Conference USA and is fourth in the country in free throw percentage at 93.4 percent. He leads his team and is ranked seventh in Conference USA with 4.1 assists per game. He is only the second player in USM history with the combination of at least 1,000 points, 400 assists, 250 rebounds and 100 steals.
Former Mississippi State coach Richard Williams, who led the Bulldogs to a Final Four appearance and is set to be the keynote speaker at the Monday, March 3 announcement ceremony at the MSHOF, said he's been impressed with all three.
"Well, of course, Marshall won it last year," Williams said. "But I think Jarvis Summers might be more important to that team. It's hard to say, because Henderson just makes big basket after big basket and is so exciting to watch, but Jarvis is so steady and improved from last year. Plus, he's a better defender than Marshall.
"Even though (Watson's) stats aren't as good as the other two, he's maybe the most important part of that Southern Miss team, which is the best team in the state right now. He's the guy that makes them go."
Gillom Trophy finalists include Mississippi State's Alwal, Ole Miss' Tia Faleru and Southern Miss point guard Jamierra Faulkner.
Alwal ranks in the top three in the SEC in field goal percentage, in the top 10 in scoring and in the top 10 in rebounding. She has set the MSU career record for blocks with 232. She averages 15.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, both helped by Sunday's career 25-point, 23-rebound effort against Ole Miss.
Faleru has averaged 17 points and 9.9 rebounds. She ranks No. 3 in SEC in scoring, No. 1 in rebounds. She is the only SEC player to rank in the top three in both categories. She has recorded 15 double-doubles this season, which leads the SEC and is 18th nationally. Ole Miss has played eight games against ranked teams and Faleru has scored in double figures in seven of the eight.
Faulkner leads the nation in assists with 8.4 per game and set a career-high with 17 assists in a single game, the highest nationally this season. She ranks fifth nationally in steals with 3.1 per game. She leads Southern Miss in scoring with 17.2 points per game, and that goes up to 21 points per game in conference play. She is USM's all-time leader in assists and steals and ranks No. 3 all-time in scoring. She is one of 30 players in the country to be chosen for the Senior Class Award, one of 22 named to the Nancy Lieberman Award Watch List.
"I think they got them right, too. Pretty incredible that you have the nation's assist leader, who has set all kinds of records at USM and the defending champion and Tia Faleru averages right at a double-double per game."
It's uncertain if this is the first year that both reigning trophy winners will return to Jackson as finalists.
"I am not sure if it has happened before, but it's certainly odd to see that," Cleveland said. "Usually, at least one of them is a senior or goes pro."
The finalists were selected by a state-wide panel of media who cover college basketball in Mississippi. The final vote will take place this week, a weighted vote (90 percent media, 10 percent fans). Beginning Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. and until Sunday, March 2 at 5 p.m., anyone can vote in the fan voting by going to www.csopavoting.com.