At the start of Missouri’s men's basketball game at Nebraska on Saturday night, Missouri coach Mike Anderson questioned guard Marcus Denmon's aggressiveness. By the end Anderson had his answer.
After scoring just 15 points in his past three games, Denmon was chastised by his coach for lacking energy and passing up open jump shots. Denmon seemed to have his response when he made a risky 3-point shot over a double-team. That shot summed up the game for Denmon, who rarely missed the entire game.
“Anytime I get challenged, just being a competitor that I am, it motivates me a lot,” Denmon said. “I take it personally that coach said I need to be aggressive and I want to do anything for us to win.”
Missouri fed off Denmon’s aggressive approach to beat Nebraska 74-59 at Lincoln, Neb. The win gave the Tigers just their third road win of the season and back-to-back 20-win seasons. Nebraska (12-13, 1-11), a notoriously slow paced team, was forced into a fast tempo by Missouri (20-7, 8-4), and the Cornhuskers gave up 17 turnovers.
However, it was Denmon, who was the difference.
“He came out and we were reeling there,” Anderson said during a radio interview with KFRU/1400 AM. “Marcus got in and really got us going and you could just see his intensity and presence on the floor was huge.”
Denmon opened the first half scoring eight of Missouri’s first 13 points and helped erase a 10-point deficit. He went on to score a career-high 24 points and made five 3-point baskets. Missouri forward Laurence Bowers said that Denmon’s shooting acted like a catalyst to get the offense going.
“I think with anybody on the team getting in a zone like that we are hard to beat,” Bowers said on KFRU. “Especially when you got a supporting cast … a lot of guys had double-figures, he didn’t do it by himself, but he was the hot man tonight.”
Missouri opened the second half with just a one-point lead, but with the focus on stopping Denmon, the court opened for other players.
Denmon would pump fake to shed the defense and find guard Zaire Taylor or forward Laurence Bowers for easy baskets. The Tigers were able to make 11 3-point shots in the game and used their hot shooting to extend their lead to double-digits halfway through the second half.
Missouri's defense also helped speed the game up. The constant pressure and traps forced the Cornhuskers into careless turnovers in the second half that prevented any comeback. It bothered Nebraska guard Lance Jeter so much that he slammed the ball in his hands during a timeout and scowled at his coach.
“I felt that we sped the tempo up, and some of those guys were playing tired and started to cause them to get fouls,” Denmon said.
However, Missouri wasn’t in control the entire game. It opened the first half trailing 11-1 and didn’t make its first field goal until five minutes into the game. It wasn’t until Anderson went to his bench that the Tigers got things going.
Denmon and Bowers made 12 straight points to tie the game up. Missouri and Nebraska traded baskets the rest of the first half. Anderson said that it was the bench, which outscored Nebraska 41-17 that gave Missouri its second win in Lincoln in four years.
“We talk about the strength of our team, and our biggest component is our bench,” Anderson said. “And on any given night any one of those guys are capable of going off.”