With 1:16 to play in overtime, the Vanderbilt Commodores ahead 79-77, Missouri guard Marcus Denmon jacked up a three point shot from so far beyond the arc that even an NBA coach would have scolded him.
And he drilled it.
“It takes a lot of cojones to take one from that deep,” teammate Michael Dixon Jr. said. [Editor’s note: I bracketed “cojones” off in the published story and replaced it with “guts”, because I didn’t know how positive a response my editor would give me for publishing the spanish swear word for testicles…]
Two defensive possessions later, with his Tigers down by two, Denmon intercepted a Brad Tinsley pass intended for Jeffery Taylor, ran the court and nailed an and-one layup of his own to secure the victory for his Tigers.
“He’s a gamer. As long as I’ve been playing with or against him, he lives for those kinds of moments,” Dixon said.
Marion Denmon, Marcus’s cousin and close friend, died on Tuesday after being shot in Kansas City.
“[Marion] was like a brother to him,” Dixon said. “[Marcus] attributed the win to him…He played his heart out and that flowed through the team.”
After leading the Tigers in scoring through the first 8 games, Marcus Denmon struggled to find his shot early. He missed wide open jump shots everywhere from 10 feet out to the three point line. With only two points on six shots in the first half, the guard appeared visibly shaken whenever he went up with the ball.
Denmon exploded in the second half after he hit his second basket of the game with 12 minutes remaining in regulation. He finished with 21 points, a team high, on seven-of-19 from the floor.
“In the first half, he played with a heavy heart… In the second, he looked more like the Marcus Denmon who has been playing for us all year. What a finish,” head coach Mike Anderson said.
Mizzou led by three at the half, feeding off of guard Michael Dixon Jr.’s energy. The scrappy player had three steals and shot five-of-nine from the floor, including a three point basket and a buzzer-beating layup dropped in over a Vanderbilt double team to put the Tigers up 40-37 by halftime.
Meanwhile Vanderbilt’s sophomore John Jenkins poured in 16 points, four from deep, in the first half alone, putting the guard a little less than three points shy of his team-leading average 18.6 points per game in his first 18 minutes of play.
Jenkins had a game high 23 points, thanks to a lackadaisical Tiger defense that constantly left him open beyond the arc.
Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings knew his leading scorer would have a big game against the Missouri defense
“If they’re going to press us, John Jenkins will stand out there at the other end, so you take your chances,” Stallings said.
Jenkins had two open looks in overtime but could not seal the win for the Commodores.
“There’s really no excuse for how that all unfolded,” Stallings said “Nevertheless, we had our chances.”
MU forward Ricardo Ratliffe was tasked with the difficult assignment of guarding reigning SEC Player of the Week, 6-foot 11-inch center Festus Ezili, who averaged 19 points and seven rebounds in Vanderbilt’s last two games.
On Ratliffe, coach Anderson said, “He’s taking gradual steps each and every game. It seems to me that the more physical the game is, the more it plays into his favor.”
The junior college transfer had blood on his jersey and several scratch marks visible on his arms
“That was definitely the toughest fights I’ve ever been in,” Ratliffe said of the physical play of Vanderbilt’s big men.
The crowd at Mizzou Arena made as much noise as one might expect for a match up against a Big 12 opponent.
“I’ve never had an atmosphere like this playing against a team like that,” said Ratliffe.
Ratliffe had nine rebounds and and 14 points in 38 minutes.
The Tigers received major contributions from Ratliffe, Dixon, and junior guard Kim English, but the credit for this win must fall squarely on the shoulders–and heart–of Marcus Denmon.
“It was a team win,” Michael Dixon said.
“In the end, our defense was the difference in this game,” coach Anderson said.
Marcus Denmon was not available for comment, and although the team player surely would have said the same thing, everyone inside Mizzou Arena on this crisp Wednesday night knows.
This one’s for Marion.