The senior guard converted a 3-point play and hit two 3-pointers in the final 2:05, the last for the go-ahead points, and No. 4 Missouri scored the game’s final 11 points to rally past No. 8 Kansas 74-71 in Game 1 of what could be the schools’ final Border Showdown on Saturday night.
“Marcus made three huge shots,” said teammate Kim English, who added 18 points. “They were huge plays. Kansas didn’t let up at all.”
Denmon scored 29 points, two off his career best, and ended a long-range shooting slump with a career-best six 3-pointers in nine attempts.
“Marcus worked his tail off all week,” coach Frank Haith said.
The go-ahead 3-pointer came with 56 seconds to go for a one-point lead. Michael Dixon added a pair of free throws with 9.8 seconds left after an offensive foul on Tyshawn Taylor and Kansas’ Elijah Johnson missed badly on a shot to tie it at the buzzer.
“The most important thing I remember hearing was Kimmie saying, ‘We’re going to win this game,’ ” Denmon said. “I understood how much it meant to him to say that. We’re the senior leaders and I felt we had to come out and execute.”
Missouri (21-2, 8-2 Big 12) beat Kansas for only the second time in the last 12 meetings, and the Tigers’ impending departure for the SEC added spice to the final conference meeting in Columbia, Mo.
Thomas Robinson had 25 points and 13 rebounds for Kansas (18-5, 8-2), but the closing minutes were anguish for coach Bill Self. The Jayhawks were scoreless the final 3:20 after Taylor dunked for a 71-63 lead.
“We let up on the gas and they hit shots. Big shots,” said Robinson, his voice choked with emotion. “We blew that game. I still give them credit for making shots.”
Other miscues: Robinson was called for an offensive foul with 1:42 to go and with Missouri up by one, Taylor missed two free throws with 41 seconds to go.
“We obviously made some really bad plays late, really bad plays,” Self said. “They’ve still got to make shots, but they had a guy that was unbelievable.”
Missouri is 13-0 at home, and this was the closest call by far for a team that has usually dominated. The previous smallest margin was 11 points over Texas last month.
Haith beat Kansas in his first try, although it was Missouri’s first in the series since 2009 and only the second in the last 12 overall. Self fell to 17-4 against Missouri.
“It was just a great atmosphere,” Haith said. “It was a memorable game. A classic.”
The rematch is Feb. 25 in Lawrence, Kan. It could also be the final meeting between the schools for a while with bad feelings from Missouri’s decision to leave for the SEC.
“I will say this: So much has been made about the hatred and that stuff,” Self said. “Hey, this is hard for me to say to Missouri people, but I thought tonight that was about as classy an atmosphere as there is. I hope it’ll be the same way when they come over to our place. I’m sure it will be.”
Haith had the team stay at a hotel Saturday night, saying, “I can imagine what Columbia is going to be like tonight.”
Denmon had been just 5 for 31 from 3-point range the previous five games, and was held to six points on 3 for 12 overall shooting in a one-point victory at Texas on Monday, and had been spending extra time in the gym working on the shot. He hit all three 3-point attempts in a 16-point first half, helping Missouri take a 39-34 lead.
The border matchup prompted plenty of extra adrenaline, some of it provided by a pumped-up sound system. Missouri mascot Truman the Tiger descended from the ceiling via cable, a nod to the every-night tradition at the old Hearnes Center, and prep-game festivities featured fireworks that left an acrid stench hovering over the court much of the first half.
Fans began camping out Wednesday night to get a spot for ESPN’s GameDay, and at least 1,000 students were poised to charge for favorable seating when the gates opened 1½ hours before tipoff. Fans on one half of the arena stayed on their feet throughout the game, as opposed to taking their seat after Missouri’s first basket.
“That was the loudest I’d ever heard them,” English said. “I was just so proud and excited.”
There was little out-of-line behavior, other than a fan heaving what appeared to be a rolled-up T-shirt onto the court after Ricardo Ratliffe was whistled for his fourth foul with 6:22 to go.
— Associated Press —