New York Missouri was No. 25 in the preseason poll. The Tigers have moved into the top 10 and are playing as though they mean to stay up there.
"The Mizzou brand was on the national scene tonight," first-year coach Frank Haith said. "And the lights are bright, very bright here in New York. We had an opportunity on national TV against a good team."
The country should be impressed.
Marcus Denmon had his second straight strong game from 3-point range, this time making six and scoring 28 points in an 81-71 victory over Villanova in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
"There was a lid on the basket for a little while," Denmon said. "We kept the ball moving and started making some shots."
The 6-foot-3 senior guard made seven 3s while scoring a career-high 31 points in the Tigers' last game against Northwestern State. He came into the game averaging 20.6 points and 3.3 3-pointers. On Tuesday, he was 6 of 10 from 3-point range, making all three attempts in the first 7:41 of the second half when Missouri (8-0) opened a 16-point lead.
Ricardo Ratliffe added 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Tigers, who last started a season with eight straight wins in 2006-07. Kim English had 15 points for Missouri, which cracked the top 10 this week.
The Tigers shot 42.4 percent from the field (28 of 66), well off the 52.5 percent they were at entering the game, a mark that is fourth nationally.
"We talk about finding ways to win when we don't shoot the ball well," Haith said. "I think this is the first night we didn't shoot the ball well. We played defense and rebounded. Those will be the keys to our success."
Maalik Wayns had 14 points and freshman Darrun Hilliard added 13 for the Wildcats (5-3), who have lost three of four.
The Wildcats used a 10-0 run capped by a 3 by Dominic Cheek to get within 61-55 with 9:52 left. They got as close as six once more, 68-62 on a rebound basket by JayVaughn Pinkston with 6:01 to play, but the Tigers went on a 7-1 run with Ratliffe, Denmon and English all scoring.
"It's no surprise at how good a team they were," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "We were trying to scrap and fight to keep it close and steal it at the end. They have so many answers and they are so intelligent. Their guards are good. That is a well-coached team."
Missouri outscored Villanova 24-8 in fast-break points and that was a credit to point guard Phil Pressey, who had eight points and 12 assists — many when the Tigers took off after grabbing the rebound of a Villanova miss.
"It's Phil," Ratliffe said of his point guard, who gave him a behind-the-back pass for a dunk. "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."
It was Villanova's sixth straight loss in a game against a ranked team.
"It's a 40-minute game and we probably played well for 33 minutes against a great team," Wayns said. "Those minutes are going to cost you. All you can do is go to practice and try and get better."
Denmon scored 12 points in the final 9:20 of the first half as Missouri took a 42-29 lead. His 3-pointer with 6:12 left in the first half gave the Tigers the lead for good, 24-21. Villanova managed just eight points over the final 9:20 of the half when Missouri outscored the Wildcats 23-8.