I’m far from veteran in the sportswriting business, but in my limited time covering college basketball, I’ve learned that the key to being a good writer is being able to find the story within the game. Quite often, there are nights where that storyline is not always easy to find.
And then there are times when an article will write itself.
Like Missouri’s 85-82 win over Vanderbilt Wednesday night.
On Friday, Marion Denmon was shot when the car he was riding in got caught in the crossfire of two cars in a “rolling gun battle“. Denmon was hit and taken to the hospital, where he died Tuesday afternoon.
Marion Denmon is the cousin of Marcus Denmon, the Missouri Tiger’s leading scorer. They were close, growing up in the same house in Kansas City. After the shooting, Denmon made the trip back to Kansas City to be with his family, but he returned to Columbia for the Tiger’s media day on Monday. He didn’t tell anyone what had happened, not until he took to facebook after his cousin had passed.
Fast forward to Wednesday night.
Missouri is playing Vanderbilt on ESPNU, and Denmon is in the lineup. But, understandably, he is not himself in the first half. Coming into the game, Denmon had been playing the best basketball of his life. He was averaging 16.4 ppg (and 23.0 ppg in his last two games) and shooting 56.4% from three. After 20 minutes, however, Denmon had just two points on 1-6 shooting from the field.
The second half didn’t start out much better. He missed a three. He missed a 15 footer after tracking down a loose ball. Throw in a foul here and a turnover there, and Denmon and the Tigers found themselves down 54-48 after a Jeff Taylor dunk with 13 minutes left in the game.
That’s when Denmon took over. First, it was a jumper in transition to cut the lead to four. Then he found Justin Safford open for a three that cut the lead to one. After he made 1-2 free throws, Vandy scored, but Denmon answered right back with a three to keep the deficit at one. Two possessions later, Denmon drove to the rim for a layup that gave the Tigers the lead at 59-58.
Three minutes later, after Vandy had retaken the lead, Denmon again drove and scored, this time drawing a foul as well, to put Mizzou back ahead 67-66, but this game would eventually go to overtime.
With 1:42 to go in the overtime, Lance Goulbourne slipped a screen and gave Vandy a 79-77 lead, but Denmon answered at the other end with a contested 25 footer to retake the lead. After the two teams traded buckets, the score was 82 all and Vandy had the ball with a chance to hold for the final shot.
But Brad Tinsley made a lazy pass, Denmon read it, jumped the passing lane, and streaked the other way for a layup and the foul. After he hit the free throw, Vandy came the other way and Tinsley missed a 35 foot prayer at the buzzer.
All told, Denmon scored 19 of his 21 points after halftime. He sparked the run that got Mizzou back into the game Vandy opened up their biggest lead. He scored six of the last eight Tiger points, including the game winning steal and bucket.
“In the first half he played with a heavy heart. He lost a family member,” coach Mike Anderson said after the game. “But, in the second half he played more like Marcus.”
Heavy heart and all.
I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe in a higher power. And I hope that no one implies that this performance by Denmon was a result of anything other than a young man showing just what he is capable of in spite of horrific circumstances.
Tonight’s win goes beyond a mark in the W column. It goes beyond the basketball.
This win won’t bring his cousin back. I’m sure Denmon would trade every win, every basket, of his career to bring his cousin back.
But even if it was for a short two and a half hours, Denmon was able to get his mind, and his family’s mind, off the tragedy at hand.
RIP Marion Denmon. I know your cousin did you proud tonight.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.