Denmon emerges as No. 15 Missouri’s go-to player

Photos of Michael Dixon and Kim English accompany the season
preview in Missouri’s media guide, designating them as the players
most likely to inherit leadership roles after the departure of
three seniors.

As for returning sixth man Marcus Denmon? Just another member of
the supporting cast.

Everyone is well acquainted now with the 6-3 junior, who has
emerged as the go-to offensive threat for the 15th-ranked Tigers
(15-2). Denmon is one of the nation’s best 3-point shooters, up to
51 percent accuracy after going 5 for 7 while matching his career
best with 27 points that helped end Nebraska’s 11-game winning
streak on Wednesday night.

”Wow, is he shooting it,” Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said. ”He
makes their inside game really good because it just spreads you
out.”

Denmon has topped 20 points seven times in the first 17 games,
and five times has made four or more 3-pointers. But he’s far from
a gunner, taking more than 15 shots only twice the last dozen
games, and is just as dangerous on the drive as launching it.

He plays a vital role in the all-court pressing defense, too,
getting three or more steals in five games, and is averaging 4.5
rebounds. Unlike last season, when he deferred to seniors J.T.
Tiller, Zaire Taylor and Keith Ramsey, Denmon is seizing every
opportunity.

”I feel my role has changed completely,” Denmon said. ”Last
year we had a lot of older guys, they were kind of the core and
nucleus of the team. This year, I’m one of the key guys.”

Denmon’s average of 17.6 points is an eight-point jump from last
season, when he played a complementary role while not at full
strength following knee surgery. Still, he posted a trio of
20-point games in Big 12 Conference play.

”He’s healthier now and he’s playing with a lot of
confidence,” coach Mike Anderson said. ”I think he’s becoming
that guy who is slowly becoming the leader of this team. You can
see that emerging.”

Early against the Cornhuskers, Denmon skied over taller
defenders for a tip-in. At one point, he personally outscored
Nebraska 14-13, and he also scored 27 points on 10 for 12 shooting
in an overtime loss to Georgetown.

”My teammates just did a good job of looking for me,” Denmon
said. ”I work on it every day, trying to get good looks and open
shots. That usually makes the percentages better on making
them.”

Earlier this month, Denmon was named to the John Wooden award
midseason list. Twice he’s been Big 12 player of the week.

In December, on the court a day after his cousin died of a
gunshot wound in Kansas City, Denmon scored all but two of his 21
points after halftime and made the crucial three-point play late in
an overtime victory over Vanderbilt.

”He’s just a big-game player,” Dixon said. ”A prime-time
player.”

Sadler’s unsuccessful strategy was to keep Denmon from getting
the ball, calling him a ”no-catch guy.”

”He caught it,” Sadler said. ”And he made us pay.”

Missouri is among the highest-scoring teams in the country with
an 85-point average, with Laurence Bowers, Ratliffe, Dixon and
English also averaging in double figures. All are capable of
carrying the load. A deep bench led by forward Justin Safford and
brothers Phil and Matt Pressey also helps make it easier for Denmon
to find good looks.

Phil Pressey is set for his third game back from a broken right
ring finger on Saturday at No. 14 Texas A&M, and played an
effective 21 minutes against Nebraska while wearing a protective
glove.

”One of us coming out and Phil coming in, we don’t lose much,”
Denmon said. ”We have interchangeable parts.”

English averaged a team-leading 14 points for last season’s
23-win team and is the Tigers’ other primary 3-point threat, but
has been less reliable in production and shot judgment. A streaky
shooter who’s been off a bit, his average is down to 10.5
points.

Dixon, who made eight starts as a freshman last season, is
working his way back following a disciplinary suspension last
month. He started for the first time in eight games against
Nebraska.

As for Denmon, he’s been Missouri’s top scorer five of the last
seven games and scored in double figures 14 straight times. He has
151 career 3-pointers, already cracking the school’s top 10.

”That’s what I look for, the consistency,” Anderson said.
”And he’s bringing it every night.”