A win in the national spotlight helped cement Missouri's status as a top-10 team. It has a good chance to stay there over the next couple of weeks.
Opening a seemingly winnable stretch of home games, the No. 10 Tigers will try to match their best start in six seasons Saturday against Navy.
Missouri (8-0) traveled outside its home state for the first time this season for Tuesday's Jimmy V Classic matchup with Villanova at Madison Square Garden. After prevailing by an average of 27.9 points in their previous contests, the Tigers encountered a little more resistance during a 81-71 victory.
"There's no question, when we got the job, this was a game that I thought would really help us, really help our program," said first-year coach Frank Haith, whose team was ranked 25th in the AP's preseason poll.
Leading scorer Marcus Denmon had 28 points in New York after scoring a career-best 31 four days earlier against Northwestern State.
Ricardo Ratliffe added 17 points on 8-of-8 shooting and a season-high 11 rebounds. The senior forward is among the nation's leaders in field goal percentage (77.3) and has helped the Tigers shoot 51.1 percent this season.
They were held to a season-low 42.4 percent shooting overall against the Wildcats, but made up for that by hitting 10 3-pointers and knocking down 15 of 18 attempts from the foul line.
"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."
The Tigers will try to add to stay hot by matching their 9-0 start from the 2006-07 campaign, and they shouldn't have any problem doing so against the struggling Midshipmen (3-7).
Missouri will also face Kennesaw State on Dec. 15 and William & Mary on Dec. 18 before taking on No. 24 Illinois in the annual Braggin' Rights game in St. Louis on Dec. 22.
Navy, in its first year under former Penn State coach Ed DeChellis, has averaged 56.5 points on 39.5 percent shooting while losing seven of eight. The Midshipmen managed to post their highest point total of the season Tuesday against visiting Monmouth, but that wasn't enough in a 69-67 defeat.
Leading scorer J.J. Avila (13.4 ppg) hit double figures for the sixth straight game with a team-best 14 points. Junior guard Jordan Brickman, who missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, finished with 11.
Navy is facing its first top-10 opponent since a 90-58 loss at No. 4 Wake Forest on Dec. 29, 2000. The Midshipmen have played only one other ranked team since the end of the 2001-02 season, falling 78-68 at No. 18 Villanova on Dec. 22, 2008.
This is Missouri's third matchup with Navy and first since a first-round victory in the 1994 NCAA tournament.