No. 21 Missouri runs into CBE Classic finals with rout of Notre Dame

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Missouri's Marcus Denmon figured he had about 30 friends and family members inside the Sprint Center on Monday night, taking advantage of the chance to see the hometown kid made good.

Denmon certainly gave them something to remember.

The senior guard poured in 26 points, Phil Pressey added 17 and the No. 21 Tigers used a big run spanning halftime to knock off Notre Dame 87-58 in the semifinals of the CBE Classic.

"I'm going to be saying this all year: 'He's just very talented,' " first-year Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "He had a nice pace, a nice rhythm to his game tonight."

That went for the rest of the Tigers, too.

Ricardo Ratliffe added 12 points and Kim English had 10 for Missouri (4-0), which shot 63.3 percent from the field while building a 52-37 lead by halftime. The Tigers scored the first six points out of the break to put things away early, punching their ticket to the championship game.

Missouri, making its fourth appearance in the tournament, will play California (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP) on Tuesday night. The Tigers last won the event in 2001, when it was called the Guardians Classic.

"It's always fun to be able to play in front of your home fans," said Denmon, a schoolboy star for Hogan Prep in Kansas City. "It's always fun."

Tim Abromaitis returned from a four-game suspension to score 22 points with seven rebounds for Notre Dame. Scott Martin added 12 points, the only other player in double figures, as the Fighting Irish shot just 25 percent (7 of 28) from the field in the second half.

"Flat out, men against boys," Irish coach Mike Brey said. "They're really good, they're really mature. It was the varsity playing the JV at times."

Playing just a couple hours' drive from its campus in Columbia, the Tigers had the decided home-court advantage at the Sprint Center -- and they gave their fans plenty of reasons to cheer.

They hit their first four shots, at one point in the first half had six assists to zero turnovers, and put together their highest-scoring half of the season with 3:10 left in the first.

The Irish (4-1) struggled to slow down the Tigers' four-guard offense, which pressured them mercilessly on defense and turned just about every turnover into a fast-break basket at the other end.

"We knew we were a lot smaller than them," Pressey said. "It worked to our advantage."

Denmon made everything happen, scoring on an assortment of runners, fadeaway jumpers and spot-up 3-pointers in a virtuoso performance. He scored seven straight for the Tigers during one stretch in the first half, putting Notre Dame in an early double-digit hole.

Notre Dame tried to mount a comeback behind Abromaitis, who was forced to sit out the first four games of the season because of a misunderstanding that concerned his eligibility.

The fifth-year senior had played in two exhibition games as a sophomore before redshirting, but under NCAA bylaws, those games meant that he exhausted that season's eligibility. Notre Dame appealed and Abromaitis was granted an extra year, but he was forced to sit out the first four games.

"It felt good for a couple possessions," Abromaitis said. "It's nice to be back playing, but they're a great team. It was kind of like being thrown into the fire."

Abromaitis' three-point play with 5:27 left in the first half got the Irish within 37-29, and his bucket a couple of minutes later trimmed the lead to 42-35.

That's when the Tigers went on their 16-2 run spanning halftime.

English started it with a 3-pointer, Pressey converted a three-point play moments later and Denmon hit a jumper to make it 50-35. Abromaitis made a couple free throws to briefly halt the run before halftime, but the Tigers picked up right where they left off.

Denmon scored right out of the break, Michael Dixon added a basket and Ratliffe's bucket with 17:29 left made it 58-37 and prompted Brey to call a timeout.

It didn't do much good, and the senior-laden Tigers put it on cruise control from there.

"We played great tonight," Haith said. "It's just one game, but we played very well."