Denmon emerges as Missouri’s go-to player

Marcus Denmon of Missouri drives the ball upcourt during the second half of a last month’s game against Northern Illinois at Mizzou Arena.

Marcus Denmon of Missouri drives the ball upcourt during the second half of a last month’s game against Northern Illinois at Mizzou Arena. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA (AP) — 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 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 today (ESPN2-TV) 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.”

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