COLUMBIA — After picking up a careless foul late in the second half against Kansas, Missouri guard Marcus Denmon angrily rolled the ball to the referee and just shook his head.
The foul capped off a frustrating night for one of the Missouri men’s basketball team’s best bench players. Denmon couldn’t seem to score, missing layups and open 3-point shots all game in Missouri’s 77-56 loss against No. 2 Kansas (29-2, 15-1) Saturday.
Who: #5 Missouri (22-9, 10-6) vs. #12 Nebraska (14-17, 2-14)
When: Wednesday at 2 p.m.
Where: Kansas City, Mo.
“We rely on him to get some scoring, and he couldn’t throw it into the ocean tonight,” said Matt Zimmerman, an assistant coach for Missouri. “And if he isn’t scoring a little bit that affects our offense.”
However, Denmon's struggles weren't a surprise. Everything needed to go right for Missouri to beat Kansas. The Jayhawks have spent the majority of the year ranked No. 1 and nearly went undefeated in the Big 12. With preseason All-Americans Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins, Kansas is just as deep and more talented than the Tigers. For Missouri to win, its bench would have had to have a near perfect game. But instead it had one of its worst games of the season.
“That wasn’t the only difference,” Missouri forward Laurence Bowers said. “But when your bench scores eight points, you aren’t going to win many games.”
Missouri’s bench usually outscores opponents by 15 points a game. However, Saturday Kansas was able to beat the Tigers at their own game. The Jayhawks bench helped to keep the starters fresh and even sparked a run when Missouri was within four points in the second half.
“We really needed it (the bench) because Kansas has a really good bench,” Zimmerman said. “And we got to be able to offset that a little bit.”
The struggles were apparent from the start of the game. The Missouri starters jumped out to an early 17-10 lead, but saw it dwindle to just one after Missouri coach Mike Anderson put in the bench. Aside from a block by Steve Moore that sent the ball flying into the stands, the bench provided little energy.
“When we get the game started off right and they come in and give us that lift that really gives us some energy and some motivation to keep the game rolling,” J.T. Tiller a guard for Missouri said. “So if our bench is struggling, then we are definitely going to have a hard game.”
Missouri had no chance against the one of the best teams in the nation without a strong performance from the bench. That became apparent toward the end of the first half. With little rest, Missouri's starters seemed winded and struggled to keep up with the Jayhawks. The result was a 16-0 run for the Jayhawks at halftime.
“When we got tired and we weren’t getting a pick up, that definitely had something to do with our lulls,” Tiller said.
The lack of scoring from the bench also added extra pressure on the starters. Missouri guard Zaire Taylor often drove into the lane trying to force up a shot only to have it blocked.
“If you can’t get much from the bench then it definitely puts more pressure on your starters to score and to do everything that you need,” Zimmerman said. “And we don’t want to do that.”
However, the injury to forward Justin Safford had something to do with the weak performance from the bench. Missouri’s bench often relies on the energy and scoring punch that both Bowers and Denmon provide, but with Bowers inserted into the starting line-up the pressure falls solely on Denmon. Zimmerman said that the game highlighted a recurring problem the Tigers must fix in order to be competitive.
“Right now depth is a big issue for us,” Zimmerman said. “We think we still have a lot of depth, but the way it’s played out, we didn’t show any depth today.”
Tiller said he doesn’t perceive this to be a continuing problem for the Tigers. However, as Missouri heads into its first game in the Big 12 Tournament and possibly the NCAA Tournament, the bench will be crucial.
“We are going to need our bench huge,” Bowers said. “That’s what got us here and where we are at now.”