COLUMBIA — The abundant confidence of Marcus Denmon was on display Saturday during the Missouri men’s basketball team’s wild conference-opening victory against No. 13 Kansas State.
With Missouri down six points and in need of something to slow a Kansas State surge, Denmon took matters into his own sweet-shooting hands. Thirty seconds after making an open 3-pointer to cut the deficit to three, Denmon took a pass from Zaire Taylor and quickly released another 3-point attempt, this one with a defender in his face. Again, the shot dropped in, and Missouri drew within one.
Missouri (13-3, 1-0 Big 12)
at Texas Tech (12-3, 0-1 Big 12)
WHEN: 8 p.m.
WHERE: United Spirit Arena, Lubbock, Texas
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM. KBXR/102.3 FM
Minutes later, with the score tied and under two minutes left, Denmon took the ball from the spot he hit his second 3-pointer and raced around the 3-point arc. He beat his defender, pulled up and released a shot just inside the arc.
Good again. Missouri regained the lead. Another basket in another clutch situation.
Taylor hit the winning shot against Kansas State, but he wouldn't have had that chance without Denmon's shots down the stretch. Denmon’s lack of hesitation to take big shots against Missouri’s toughest opponent to date showed he’s fearless on the court. But the sophomore guard’s boldest move takes place on the bench.
“Every time I go down the bench and I’m looking (at the players), he’s looking right at me,” said Missouri coach Mike Anderson, whose team plays Texas Tech at 8 p.m. tonight in Lubbock, Texas. “He’s looking at me big-time. A lot of guys, they’ll look away when the head coach comes down. But Marcus looks at me always.
“I like that.”
Denmon’s reason for daring to meet his coach’s scanning eyes is simple. He wants to get into the game.
“You really can’t do that much from the bench but encourage, so I always try to be ready on the bench, and let coach know I’m ready to get in and do whatever I got to do to help us win,” Denmon said.
This season, it’s been knocking down shots. Denmon is Missouri’s second-leading scorer with 11.3 points per game and is tied with leading scorer Kim English for the team lead in 3-pointers at 37.
If Denmon’s rise to elite scorer, and clutch performer, seems surprising, it’s because he was held back by a leg injury his freshman season.
“I think he’s finally able to showcase the player he is,” Anderson said. “He’s been going through so much since he’s been here for playing last year with a fractured leg. He played a whole season with a fractured leg.”
A fractured bone under his left kneecap was surgically repaired at the end of last season, and after rehab over the summer, Denmon is now healthy and has taken it upon himself to be a go-to scorer.
“This team is really an unselfish team, and they look for me a lot because that is something I work on and I try to pride myself in, if I can get good shots to knock them down,” Denmon said. “It’s something that I work on, and I shoot thousands and thousands of shots so when I get out there it’s just second nature when I get a good look to knock it down.”
Denmon started four games at the beginning of the season but has been one of the first players off the bench since. His numbers look like those of a starter, but Denmon said he accepts the role he’s in right now. It’d take a whole lot more than not starting to shake him.
“Marcus always has that confidence, from day one since he stepped on this campus,” Anderson said.
“I think Marcus has always been a scorer his whole life. Those guys, they’ve got instincts, they’ve got a want-to to make the big play.”