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.”