NCAA BK

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 - 8:00 PM ET
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Niagara-Missouri Preview

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Missouri's adjustment to new coach Frank Haith has gone smoothly so far, and the 24th-ranked Tigers have one more game to work out any kinks before the competition gets significantly tougher.

A young Niagara team could be overmatched as it travels to Columbia for its first-ever meeting with Missouri on Thursday night.

This game is part of the CBE Classic, but regardless of the outcome the Tigers (2-0) will face Notre Dame in the tournament semifinals in Kansas City next week.

Missouri has already played one CBE Classic game, taking a 40-24 halftime lead Monday en route to an 81-63 win over Mercer.

Sophomore point guard Phil Pressey led the way with a career-high 22 points, shooting 6 of 11 from the field and adding five steals. Pressey considered following departed coach Mike Anderson to Arkansas after last season, but decided to stay at Missouri.

"We're all capable of changing how it's played from last year to now," Pressey said. "It's not that hard because we're all talented players and we can mold ourselves to how our coach wants us to play."

Under Haith, the Tigers are playing a bit slower than in Anderson's high-pressure system, but they still forced Mercer into 20 turnovers.

"I just think we've translated our full-court defense to the half court," junior guard Michael Dixon said. "And brought it in and got a little more organized."

Haith had plenty to be happy about Monday - including Kim English, who hit 4 of 6 from 3-point range after making 5 of 9 from beyond the arc in a season-opening win over Southeast Missouri State - but the former Miami coach had some gripes about the Tigers' second-half play. Missouri committed 10 turnovers after halftime and allowed Mercer to cut its deficit to 10 with a 14-2 run.

"This team has got to get better at understanding that when we get the lead that we had, we can't be taking plays off," Haith said.

Missouri may want to be wary of a second-half charge from Niagara. The Purple Eagles (1-0) trailed by as many as 20 in the first half Monday before rallying for a 102-93 overtime victory over Central Connecticut State.

"Our challenge now is to look at this tape and see all the mistakes that we made," coach Joe Mihalich said. "You've got to learn when you win. Everybody learns when you lose, because the mistakes are magnified."

Freshman Juan'ya Green and sophomore Marvin Jordan led Niagara with 23 points apiece Monday, and they aren't the only inexperienced Purple Eagles with big roles. The team's top six scorers in the season opener were all freshmen or sophomores.

"It's exciting and scary at the same time," Mihalich said.

That young group will be in uncharted territory as Niagara faces a ranked opponent for the first time in nearly three years. The Purple Eagles lost 77-62 at then-No. 23 Villanova on Nov. 19, 2008. They haven't defeated a Top 25 foe since knocking off St. John's in 1984.

Tagged: Niagara, Missouri, Mercer

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