COLUMBIA — Marcus Denmon played for Marion.
“He attributed tonight to the person who passed on, and played his heart out, and that flowed to the rest of the team,” Denmon's teammate Michael Dixon said.
The day after the death of a close cousin, Denmon led the No. 15 Missouri men’s basketball team with 21 points to send the Tigers to an 85-82 overtime victory against Vanderbilt on Wednesday at Mizzou Arena.
Marion Denmon died Tuesday at Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, after being shot early Friday morning. The 20-year-old cousin of the Missouri junior guard was shot while riding as a passenger in a car that got between the gunfire of two other cars.
After the shooting, Marcus Denmon returned to his hometown of Kansas City to spend time with his family. He was present at the team’s media day in Columbia on Monday, but made no mention of his cousin’s situation.
“Marcus didn’t even tell me. I didn’t know anything about it until after practice when Coach Z. (Matt Zimmerman) said that Marcus’ cousin had passed,” Dixon said.
Tuesday evening, Marcus Denmon broke his silence, revealing his pain through a Facebook post.
He wrote that no one could know how he feels, and that he felt like he had lost his little brother. He wrote that no one could say or do anything to make him feel better. He loved his cousin even more than he loved himself. Denmon continued, writing he knew Marion would look over him. He swore he wished he could take his place.
By the time the Tigers tipped off Wednesday evening, Marcus Denmon’s Facebook page had turned into a canvas for family, friends and teammates to paint their support. They encouraged him to stay strong. Play for Marion, they said.
The junior guard appeared reserved before the game. He attempted fewer shots than usual during pregame shooting practice. He occasionally lofted a long 3-pointer, but spent most of the time stretching at midcourt. The quietness followed him into the game. He made just one of six shots in the first half.
But, after a layup with 11:53 left to play in the second half, Marcus Denmon’s demeanor on the court changed. His shuffle shifted into a trot and the bounce returned to his braided hair.
His play improved a level, hitting 3-pointers and jump shots to lead all scorers in the back-and-forth contest. And then he made the play in overtime that won the game.
The score was knotted at 82. Eight seconds remained. Vanderbilt’s Brad Tinsley was ready to receive a pass, but Marcus Denmon was ready to take it.
He slapped the ball down, gathering it on its bounce and took off, eating up the empty court with his stride until he reached the basket. As he jumped, Tinsley collided into him. Denmon absorbed to contact and made the shot. Then, he stepped to the free-throw line and swished the shot. Vanderbilt’s last chance 3-pointer missed, sealing the Missouri victory.
Denmon was not available for comment after the game, choosing to forgo the postgame media conference, but his coach summed up the player’s emotional night.
“In the first half he played with a heavy heart. He lost a family member. But, in the second half he played more like Marcus,” coach Mike Anderson said.
Then, he paused before adding:
“What a finish.”