Mizzou shines on Big Stage, beats ‘Nova (and links)

Marcus Denmon drilled 6 3's and scored 28 points in Tuesday's 81-71 win over 'Nova. He has hit 13-of-20 3's in the last two games.

NEW YORK -Marcus Denmon poured in 28 points, Ricardo Ratliffe scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and point guard Phil Pressey dished out a career-high 12 assists in powering Missouri to a 81-71 win over Villanova in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.

The 10th-ranked Tigers (8-0) entered the game as the nation’s most efficient offensive team, averaging 1.25 points per possession and an amazing 5% from the field, but shot just 37% and missed several point-blank shots in the first half, but STILL led 42-29 at halftime.

What makes Mizzou’s  four-guard lineup tick?

Selfless basketball.

Point guard Phil Pressey had 17 assists and zero points the last two games, and dished out a career-high 12 Tuesday. He assisted on Missouri’s first five buckets. The Missouri offense went into a lull as he left the basketball game with 12 minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the first half with two fouls. But it recovered, despite poor shooting, with continued selfless basketball.

Denmon (15 points) and Ratliffe (12 points, 7 rebounds) carried the Tigers in the first half, and combined to shoot an impressive 18-of-24 from the field for the game in combining for 45 points.

None of those misses came from Ratliffe, who is shooting at an incredible rate this year. The 6-8 senior, who was Big 12 Newcomer of the Year last year, entered the game making 24 of his last 26 shots, and did not slow down. He hit all eight shots and has amazingly made an unthinkable 32 of his last 34 shots, including 18 of 19 the last two games.

Ratliffe is playing more like the JUCO Player of the Year this year

Ratliffe has been a benefactor of Pressey’s evolution into a true point guard. Six different times “Flip” drove the lane or baseline, drawing a double-team and dished to a wide-open Ratliffe. Once he drew the double-team and dished a no-look over the head pass for a Ratliffe dunk.

“It’s Phil,” said Ratliffe, the national leader in field goal percentage  “He’s got eyes, not only in the back of his head but in the side of his head, everywhere else. As soon as he drives I get my hands ready.”

Pressey has turned into possibly the best truest point guard in the conference since TJ Ford.

Pressey had six assists in the first half in just six minutes, dished out two assists to Denmon in the first two minutes of the second half before heading to the bench again with foul trouble, but still had eight assists in eight minutes.

Pressey also had three steals and despite finishing just 1-of-8 from the field, I can’t remember a Mzzou player having such an impact without scoring. He can score, as he has games of 17 and 22 points this season, but has had a bigger impact the last three games with 29 assists and eight assists.

“He makes everything happen,” said senior Kim English, who scored 13 points. “I can’t believe how open we are, but that is a testament to Phil and how fast he is with the ball.”

Not only does Pressey get great shots for Ratliffe, he also finds wide-open looks for English and Denmon, who are combining to shoot 52% from 3.

Denmon shined on the big stage, once scoring 13 straight points. The senior from Kansas City hit a three, then followed it up with a tip-in at the buzzer to close out the first half, then scored the first eight points, including two 3’s, of the second half. Denmon hit six 3’s and is 13-of-20 the last two games from downtown.

As bad as they shot in the first half, they shot that well in the second half, hitting their first six shots in running out to a 16 point lead, sparked by Denmon’s eight-point flurry.

Denmon hit a 3-pointer to give MU the lead for good 24-21, sparking MU’s 23-8 run to end the first half.

Villanova used a 10-0 run to erase the 16-point lead, cutting it to 61-55, but the Tigers always had an answer.

“I don’t think they have much room for improvement,” Villanova (5-3) coach Jay Wright said. “They don’t need it.”

And can we speak about Frank Haith? This team loses Laurence Bowers, and this team has shrugged it off. Granted his players are Mike Anderson’s leftovers, but this team is so much better this year, its amazing. They are SO much better on the offensive end and very rarely is there a bad shot taken. We already talked about the Tigers offensive efficiency, but they also lead the nation in field goal percentage (52.5%) and 3-point percentage (43%). The Tigers also had 23 assists on 28 buckets. And on the defensive end, they are still out forcing turnovers and getting easy lay-ups. The on the ball defense of the guards has been incredible. They opposing guards are constantly hounded. We know the kind of effect Haith has had on Pressey, handing him the reigns to the team, but also English. The senior, primarily a jump shooter, has never shot above 39% in a season for his career. This season he is shooting 57%. What a turnaround.

Now, Missouri should be 11-0 heading into a “Arch Rivalry” Showdown with Illinois in St. Louis Dec. 22 and then a tough roadie at Old Dominion Dec. 30 before taking to conference play. The Tigers are the best team in the Big 12 RIGHT NOW. Can they contend for a conference title? I’m sure as hell excited about it.

***

Box Score

MUtigers.com: No. 10 Tigers Post 81-71 Victory Over Villanova
The Trib: Tigers close out Villanova, stay unbeaten
The Missourian: Missouri defeats Villanova
KC Star: Marcus Denmon leads No. 10 Missouri over Villanova 81-71
Post-Dispatch: Mizzou handles Villanova 81-71
PowerMizzou: Tigers stay perfect
Searching For Billy Edelin: Five Takeaways: Missouri vs Villanova
ESPN.com: Rapid Reaction: Missouri 81, Villanova 71
ESPN.com: Missouri takes big step at the Garden
ZagsBlog: Mizzou Makes Statement on National Stage
Rush the Court: Jimmy V, Jae Crowder, Mizzou & Washington’s Late Game Management Issues

ESPN.com: Kim English transforms himself on and off court for Missouri Tigers

KC Star: Tigers inspire faith in Haith

 

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