COLUMBIA — A little persuasion was all Missouri sophomore guard Marcus Denmon needed to find his rhythm.
Despite being more than six months removed from surgery on his left kneecap to fix a fracture that nagged him throughout his freshman year, Denmon has had trouble finding his rhythm. He only scored two points in 17 minutes Nov. 6 against Truman State., and in the first half of Friday night’s game against Northwest Missouri State, he struggled again, scoring only two points.
However, a scolding by Missouri coach Mike Anderson at halftime for being an “almost” player because he didn’t finish his steals and passed up several scoring opportunities, helped get Denmon out of his funk. He proceeded to score 11 of his 13 points in the second half, and helped Missouri overcome a rough shooting night to win 83-60 at Mizzou Arena.
“I thought Marcus played better tonight than he did the other night. I thought he got into a rhythm more so than the other night,” Anderson said.
Denmon played most of his freshman year with an injured kneecap that hampered his explosiveness. He appeared in all 38 games last year and managed to average six points, but shot only 39 percent from the field. The offseason knee surgery will help bring back some of that explosiveness he displayed early last year where he scored 15 points in the Tigers' season opener and had multiple double-digit scoring games.
“When you have that kind of surgery, or even the first time you ever have a surgery, that’s a pretty big deal,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. “It’s more getting through that mental part.”
The sophomore guard looked like the player he was before his injury in the second half. He drove the ball, battled for rebounds, gathering five for the game, and made a few strong defensive plays. Things really picked up halfway through the second-half when he drew contact on two defenders, and made the layup. The team-high 4-for-5 Denmon shot from the free-throw line highlights the aggressive approach he took.
“I’ve seen that it (the lane) was open in the first half, so in the second half I just it was something I could start off of and attack and be aggressive,” Denmon said.
Anderson said that the exhibition games are a great way to provide Denmon the chance to overcome his surgery. They give him a chance to play more minutes and get some experience that you don’t get in practice to see that the knee is OK.
“He needs to get out there and play. He needs to get through that period of understanding that knee is OK and just go play basketball the way he is capable of playing. Become instinctive and do the things that he does best,” Anderson said.
However, Denmon has said the knee is a non-issue. The hard work and physical nature of practice has helped him push through the injury.
“We go harder in practice I feel. It is so hard in practice that the time it (re-injuring the knee) would happen is probably in practice. So when the game, it’s almost second nature,” Denmon said.
Denmon may have shown improvements tonight, but Anderson said that it will still take some time for him to fully recuperate. Anderson pointed to the fact that it took former Missouri forward DeMarre Carroll, who had injured his ankles his junior year, a couple games and a few bumps to see that he wouldn’t re-injure it.
Anderson said he is unsure whether Denmon will be back to his old self in time for the regular season, which starts Tuesday against University of Tennessee-Martin. But he is certain the guard will be back to his old self sooner than later.
“Once they (injured players) see it is OK, they go ahead and play basketball, and play instinctively. And that’s what I’m looking for in Marcus,” Anderson said. “And it may take a couple games, I think it may even take more than a couple games.”