NEW YORK — Before Tuesday night, Missouri hadn’t played in New York since the Preseason NIT in 1988.
Nearly a quarter century later, the No. 10 Tigers made an emphatic statement on the national stage by handling Villanova, 81-71, in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
“The Missouri brand was on the national scene tonight,” said Tigers coach Frank Haith, a Queens native. “The lights are bright, very bright here in New York. We had an opportunity to play on national TV against a really good team.”
This is just the latest impressive statement for unbeaten Mizzou (8-0), which beat Notre Dame by 29 points and then-No. 20 Cal by 39.
With Missouri moving to the SEC from the Big 12 next year, Haith wants the Tigers to have a footprint in the South and the East.
He was out recruiting in the New York area Monday and stopped in at St. Benedict’s Prep to see 2013 point guard Tyler Ennis.
“They love Tyler,” St. Ben’s coach Mark Taylor told SNY.tv.
Missouri is not a big team, but their four-guard offense sure must look appealing to guards like Ennis after Tuesday’s performance.
Point guards Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon dominated the flow of the game, despite combining to shoot just 3 for 21 from the field.
They combined for 20 assists and just 4 turnovers.
“Phil Pressey is a treat,” Haith said of the sophomore who had 8 points, 12 assists and 3 turnovers. “He’s a special player. A true point guard like that is hard to find. He’s very special. He was outstanding tonight.”
Meantime, senior guard Marcus Denmon, a Big 12 Player of the Year candidate, looked awesome in putting up 28 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
Senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe, Mizzou’s lone starting forward, was a force in the paint with 17 points and 11 boards.
“They have so many answers,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “They’re so disciplined.
“Their guards are really good, man.”
Ratliffe credited Pressey for being able to find his teammates wherever they are.
“He’s got eyes, not only on the back of his head, but on the side of his head and everywhere else,” he said. “So as soon as he drives, I just get my hands ready.”
Wright knows a few things about being successful with a four-guard offense, and thinks Mizzou has the ingredients to be dangerous going forward.
“They’ve got the ingredients to play four guards and be really dynamic,” Wright said.
After two decades away from the New York spotlight, the Tigers put on a show Tuesday. And Haith hopes that helps them build a strong footprint here in coming years.
“There’s no question,” he said. “When we got the job, this was a game that I thought would really help us, really help our program.”
Follow Adam Zagoria on TwitterAnd like ZAGS on Facebook
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.