BUFFALO, N.Y. — As the clock neared halftime of Missouri’s game against Clemson on Friday, Marcus Denmon’s frustration became apparent for the first time.
Denmon, a Tigers guard, caught the ball with an open 3-point shot. With the clock winding down, Denmon shot. The ball teased him as it bounced around the rim before coming out as the buzzer sounded. Denmon immediately galloped into the locker room as he tugged on his jersey angrily.
No. 10 seed Missouri (23-10) vs. No. 2 seed West Virginia (28-6)
WHEN: about 1:40 p.m. CDT
WHERE: HSBC Arena, Buffalo, N.Y.
TV: CBS - KRCG/Channel 13 (Gus Johnson play-by-play; Len Elmore analyst)
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM/KCOU 88.1 FM
ONLINE: Uninterrupted viewing at NCAA.com
SERIES: MU leads 1-0. Last meeting MU won 89-78 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament March 19, 1992.
MISSOURI KEY: Box Out: WVU averages the second most offensive rebounds in the nation leading to easy second chance points and more opportunities to slow the game. Against four players taller than 6-7, MU is going to need to box out in order to win.
ABOUT WEST VIRGINIA:
Coach: Bob Huggins, 3rd season
Last Season: 23-12 (10-8 Big East)
THE SKINNY: WVU is one of the most talented teams in the country. It won the Big East Conference Tournament, and has four starters 6-7 or taller. WVU is led by Da'Sean Butler who has made six game winners this season. It likes to play at a slow-paced halfcourt game that will give MU problems.
WEST VIRGINIA KEY: Handle the Press: WVU has struggled with the press in the past, but it has since become a point of emphasis. As long as WVU limits its turnovers, it can eliminate MU's main offensive edge.
WATCH FOR: Da'Sean Butler: Butler is WVU's "Mr. Big Shot," and has hit six game-winnners this season. The 6-7 guard was first team all Big East and is able to beat opponents inside and out averaging a team-high 17 points a game.
“He’s missed some shots,” Matt Zimmerman, an assistant coach for MU, said. “But he’ll be fine, he shoots every day after practice.”
It was the fourth 3-point shot Denmon had missed that half. Every jump shot Denmon took against Clemson in the first round of the NCAA Tournament seemed destined to miss. Even his free throws were off, and he often bounced the ball off the front of the rim. Denmon made just three of nine shots against Clemson. Games like Friday have started to become a recurring issue for Denmon.
“Coach Anderson is not going to tell guys not to shoot it,” Zimmerman said. “He was taking some good shots, but they weren’t going in. We know he’ll make some.”
In the past three games, Denmon has made just one of 13 from behind the 3-point line.
“Earlier in the year, he was leading the Big 12 in 3-point shooting (percentage),” Zimmerman said. “I don’t know how that turned out, but he was right there … so we know he can shoot it.”
Denmon, who is a shooting perfectionist, spends time every day of the week shooting. Zimmerman said most players will take a day or two off during the week, but Denmon is always shooting. He said he takes as many shots as it takes to make 200 before leaving the gym. It is that dedication that makes Denmon’s struggles seem more like a rare occurrence than a habit.
“As a shooter, you want to try and keep shooting,” Denmon said. “It’s only frustrating if you don’t get shots.”
If Missouri is to have a chance to beat No. 2 seed West Virginia on Sunday in Buffalo, N.Y., it will need to have a perfect game. That means Denmon’s shooting woes will need to be fixed. The Mountaineers have four starters 6-foot-7 or taller, which could eliminate Missouri’s scoring in the post.
“We need all of our guys, but he’s a good player for us,” Zimmerman said. “We need him to give us some good defense and carry that to his offense.”
Last season that might have been an issue for Denmon, but not this year. Zimmerman said that last season Denmon would struggle if he wasn’t shooting well, but with a year of experience, he has learned to find other ways to help the team.
“I think he’s realized now, ‘I can get some other good things for our team,’” Zimmerman said. “‘I can be solid out there, I don’t have to rely (on shooting).’”
The most notable difference has been the shooter’s increased emphasis on attacking the basket for layups. Against Clemson, six of his eight points came from layups and free throws.
“Sometimes the ball goes in and sometimes it doesn’t,” Denmon said. “You just got to find other ways to score, and that’s what I did.”
While Denmon continues to work through his struggles, Zimmerman said he isn’t worried.
“We’d love him to hit shots, you always want that,” Zimmerman said. “But we don’t want him focusing on ‘I got to make this shot or we’re going to lose.’ We don’t want him thinking that.”