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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Haith matches old program mark as Tigers improve to 10-0

With the 104-67 victory over Kennesaw State on Thursday, coach Frank Haith became the first MU coach since 1920 to win his first 10 games.

Dec. 16, 2011

With a 104-67 route of Kennesaw State on Thursday at Mizzou Arena, the Missouri men’s basketball squad is 10-0, off to its best start this decade.

With the win, coach Frank Haith has become the first MU head man to win his first 10 games with the program since Craig Ruby in 1920. But before any of that could happen, Haith spoke about the red-hot start and about humility.

“(Texas) coach (Rick) Barnes had a great line: 'Proud peacocks today, feather duster tomorrow,'” Haith said after the team's victory over Navy. “Our guys understand that it could all come down on us at any time.”

Of course, that did not happen Thursday night, as the No. 10 Tigers victimized yet another opponent while bringing their average victory margin to 26.7 points per game.

In the first half, Missouri was unable to pull ahead by double digits until the 1:34 mark. Until then, the Tigers suffered from defensive malfunctions and the Owls took advantage, particularly freshman guard Delbert Love, who finished with a career-best 27 points.

“I thought we were a little too Cadillac,” Haith said.

After a pair of three-pointers from Love, the Tigers went on a 17-4 run to close the half and entered the locker room with a 14-point command. During that run, senior guard Matt Pessey scored six of his season-high 15 points in the game. On one occasion, he slashed to the basket, took a dish from senior forward Kim English and dunked.

“I thought Matt was outstanding,” Haith said. “Matt knows how we feel about him in terms of what he does for our team. Great teams need a guy like Matt Pressey, a selfless guy that buys into his role completely and is prepared for when opportunities come to him.”

Pressey said his breakout performance of the season came behind the very mindset he always has.

"I take the same approach to every game, and the coaches have confidence in me,” he said. “I just took the open looks I got tonight. I just keep doing what I do, and I score when I get opportunities."

In the second half, the Tigers appeared re-energized and the Owls had no answer. Missouri shot 60 percent in the game, highlighted by 18 points apiece from senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe and junior guard Michael Dixon, who combined for 13-of-17 shooting from the field.

"We were sluggish at first, and coach Haith always tells us we're going to get a team's best shot,” Dixon said. “They came out on their toes more than we did. We got a few defensive stops that ignited our offense and that helped us to finish strong."

As the Tigers look ahead to visiting William & Mary (2-8) on Sunday — where they could become 11-0 for the first time since 1991 — before facing No. 19 Illinois on Dec. 22, Ratliffe said the coaches continue to remind the team to remain level-headed.

"Coach challenged us to stay focused and not listen to outside hype,” Ratliffe said. “We want to work hard in practice and play focused in every game, no matter who the opponent is."

Even at 10-0, the Tigers' season start has been all about perspective.

“Honestly, we didn’t do anything yet," Ratliffe said.

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