COLUMBIA — Marcus Denmon kept scoring, and Brandon Richardson and his teammates kept trying to stop him.
“If you’re there on the shot, all you can do is hope that he misses it,” Richardson said.
Denmon scored 27 points, tying his career-high as the Missouri men’s basketball team beat Nebraska 77-69 on Wednesday at Mizzou Arena. Richardson guarded Denmon throughout the game before eventually fouling out.
Five minutes into the second half, Nebraska had almost fought back. Missouri never trailed in the game, but the Cornhuskers’ methodical pace was lulling the Tigers to sleep. Missouri hit three free throws to push its lead back to six, but it was Demon who pulled his team out of its drowsy spell.
He moved in from the usual spot on the 3-point line and established a position in the paint, catching a pass and quickly snapping the ball off the court. After a single dribble, he jumped and turned to face the basket. Nebraska's Ray Gallegos tried to stop him by hacking his arm, which caused the referee to blow his whistle. Denmon absorbed the contact, and as his white shorts hit the court, the ball bumped gently off the glass and dropped into the net. A made free throw soon followed.
Denmon’s next shot equaled Missouri’s next three points, just one of the five 3-pointers that the junior guard accumulated during the course of the game.
“If you give him a standstill 3-point shot he’s going to knock it down,” Richardson said.
After the two plays, Missouri’s lead was back to 10 points. Denmon’s boost gave the Tigers some breathing room, just like it did to start the game. He scored eight of Missouri’s first 10 points, causing Nebraska to call its first time out just three minutes into the game.
In the huddle, Denmon stood with a towel over his left shoulder, transitioning his weight back and forth from his left foot to the right. He swayed side to side, as if to keep his momentum going. If it was his strategy, it worked. His scoring resumed with the game.
“Sometimes we didn’t get a hand up. Sometimes we were too late,” Richardson said.
Nebraska was well aware of Denmon’s ability to hit 3-pointers. It was the part of the game Richardson and his teammates were supposed to take away.
“He is a guy who is shooting 50 percent from the 3-point line and we were defending him like we wanted him to shoot it. He’s a no-catch guy. He caught it and made us pay,” Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said.
When Denmon wasn’t shooting the long ball, he was scoring on drives or making one of his six free throws. His missed shots stood out more than the ones that went in. Richardson knows the can't-miss feeling, and he saw it in Denmon on Wednesday.
“The rim is a like an ocean. You throw up anything and it’s going to go in. He was just in one of those rhythms tonight, and unfortunately we were on the other end as far as being a recipient of it,” Richardson said.
Occasionally, Richardson succeeded, managing to stick to Denmon as he dodged through screens and ducked away to his favorite spots. Occasionally, he managed to close out the distance in time to alter his opponent's shot. With his hand in Denmon's face, Richardson could only hope. Usually, it didn't work out.
“Sometimes he was making shots even with our hand in his face,” Richadson said.