Missouri men's basketball team defeats Villanova 81-71

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 | 9:03 p.m. CST; updated 12:02 a.m. CST, Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Missouri's Kim English (24) and Michael Dixon (11) defend Villanova's Maalik Wayns (2) during the first half of a game in the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday in New York.

Senior Ricardo Ratliffe made all but two of the shots he took on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Maybe it's because sophomore Phil Pressey made it so easy in the Missouri men's basketball team's 81-71 win over Villanova. 

"It's Phil," Ratliffe told The Associated Press about his point guard, who at the end of the second half gave Ratliffe 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."

In the first three minutes of play, Pressey had the assist on the Tigers' first four baskets. 

The guard went on to a career-high 12 assists, many of which came after grabbing defensive rebounds. As a result, Missouri outscored Villanova 24-8 in fast-break points.

Pressey, a 5-foot-10 guard who is shooting only 12.5 percent this season, made just one field goal against the Wildcats, but he grabbed a handful of rim on the basket. Villanova's Markus Kennedy dove face-first for the loose ball, but Pressey scooped it up for a breakaway and a one-handed dunk to give the No. 10 Tigers a 65-55 lead late in the second half.

Pressey went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line to finish with eight points.

Senior Marcus Denmon led the Tigers with 28 points, including six 3-pointers. Ratliffe followed with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

Denmon opened up the scoring for the Tigers with a 3-pointer. A half-smile spread across his face as he bit his lower lip. Then, after two strong claps of his hands, he was back on defense. 

But Missouri struggled with shooting numerous times throughout the game. The Tigers, who were leading the Big 12 in field-goal percentage and ranked fourth nationally entering the game, shot only 38.5 percent in the first half and finished the game at 42.4 percent. They were 15-of-18 from the free-throw line, though.

In the middle of the first half, Denmon missed a jump shot, followed by senior Matt Pressey's missed layup. Then Denmon missed on a 3-pointer before senior Kim English missed his jumper to close out the possession. A turnover by Matt Pressey gave Villanova the ball. 

"We talk about finding ways to win when we don't shoot the ball well," coach Frank 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."

Missouri's largest lead was 16 points. But for two minutes, halfway through the first half, the score was frozen with Villanova leading 21-19.  

"There was a lid on the basket for a little while," Denmon said. "We kept the ball moving and started making some shots."

But a layup by Denmon, assisted by junior Michael Dixon, sparked a 21-8 Tigers run to finish out the first half. 

Although the 10-point victory was the Tigers' smallest margin of the season, the win put Missouri at 8-0, and Villanova fell to 5-3. 

"They can beat anybody," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas commented during the first half. 

For now, he's right.

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