December 20, 2008

Defense saves Tigers from sluggish first half

The Missouri Tigers answered the question before it was even asked.

"Credit the first half to finals," DeMarre Carroll said.

Hopefully the Tigers did better on their tests than in the first half against the Stetson Hatters. Mizzou shot 31% and scored just 27 points. And still led by nine at the break.

The Tigers did little right offensively in the first 20 minutes. Lawrence had seven points to lead them. He and Justin Safford were the only players to make more than half of their shots (the two were a combined 4-5). But on defense, that's where the Tigers made their mark.

"Stetson, more than half their field goals were three point shots and we knew that coming in," Lawrence said. "They were contested shots and that made them struggle at the beginning. It just kind of carried over to the whole game."

"Both halves, I thought our defense did an outstanding job," Anderson said.

Perhaps no player was more exemplary of that effort than freshman Marcus Denmon. A freshman who was known mostly for his scoring ability on the offensive end, Denmon burst on the scene with a 36-point performance in the Black and Gold game. But in the Tigers' ten regular season games, Denmon is averaging just 7.2 points and has hit double figures only three times. He is shooting just better than 20% from three-point range.

So in the absence of offense, Denmon has turned on the defense. Despite being scoreless in the first half, Denmon was the Tigers most dominant defender, coming up with four steals in just 11 minutes.

"Playing against him, I knew (his defense) was this good," Zaire Taylor said. "I even went to one of his games last year. He can play. He's a complete player, but he shoots the ball so good that it tends to block out some of the other positives of his game, especially on the high school level."

Missouri's defense, coupled with a struggling Stetson offense, allowed the Tigers to get away with playing only a half. Next time out, that won't be good enough. Looming is the Braggin' Rights game with Illinois. Missouri hasn't come out on top of that one since 1999.

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