During the past week, much has been made of the abundance of empty seats at Mizzou Arena for the Missouri men's basketball team's first four home games of the season.
After a week of criticism, the students responded by showing up Friday night at Mizzou Arena. Those that came were handsomely rewarded, as the Tigers put on a show en route to a 90-56 dismantling of Northwestern State.
The crowd of 12,252 was by far the largest of the season thus far. Through the Tigers’ first four home games, average attendance was just a meager 6,685.
Coach Frank Haith came away from the game very impressed with what he saw in the stands, especially in the student section.
“Our fans were outstanding,” Haith said. “Our student section was unbelievable and having that sixth-man is nice to have. I’m excited about the passionate fan base we have here, and they were here tonight. And they stayed until the very end.”
MU jumped out to a 29-6 lead seven and a half minutes into the game. The lead was largely the result of an 18-0 run the Tigers went on over a four and a half-minute stretch.
Senior guards Michael Dixon and Marcus Denmon each had 16 first-half points, carrying the Tigers to a 57-31 lead at the break.
Both backcourt members set new career highs in points on this night, as Dixon finished with 19 points and Denmon led all scorers with 31.
“My teammates were finding me in open spots,” Denmon said after the game. “I take those shots everyday in practice, tonight they were falling for me.”
On the season, the preseason all-Big 12 Conference selection is averaging 20.3 points per game, a team high.
Denmon wasn’t the only backcourt player to shine for Missouri against the Demons. Coming off the bench, Dixon provided a big boost offensively, especially in the first-half.
Dixon had 16 points at the break on 6-of-7 shooting and would go on to finish the game with 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
Haith said he was pleased to see Dixon produce offensively, but he is more concerned about the junior’s abilities defensively.
“We need him to be solid on the defensive end,” Haith said. “Mike’s a little jitterbug. He’s always bouncing around and there’s some good things that happen with that but there’s also some things we need him to be more solid with.”
The strong perimeter play made things much easier in the paint for senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe, who finished with 22 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes of action.
Ratliffe attributed a lot of his success to what the four perimeter players around him were doing.
“We’ve got real good guards,” Ratliffe said. “Phil (Pressey), Mike (Dixon), Marcus (Denmon) — they all can dribble the ball, so we got the ball up the court real easily.”
Friday night’s performance was a dazzling one at that by the Tigers. When asked if the team fed off the large crowd’s energy at all, Denmon said he was happy to just have them in the stadium.
“It was definitely good seeing a lot of students and a lot of fans in here and having them loud," Denmon said.