COLUMBIA, Mo. -- After dispatching its first eight opponents with hot shooting and quickness, No. 10 Missouri needed a different strategy to counter Navy on Saturday.
Earlier in the week, Missouri coach Frank Haith said his team would need to exhibit patience against the Midshipmen, who play at a slower tempo and are more physical in the paint.Haith's words came to fruition as the Tigers overcame an uncharacteristic slow start and used their defense to pull away from Navy, 84-59.Having scored 31 and 28 points in his previous two games, Marcus Denmon scored 22 and Missouri (9-0) matched its best start since the 2006-07 season with its 64th straight home victory against nonconference opponents.Down early, Missouri went on a 16-3 run to take the lead. The Tigers finished the first half with a 27-11 burst."I feel they came out to a good start, but once the ball's thrown up and we started to get a couple of stops, I felt that us being patient helped us start to take off," Denmon said.Ricardo Ratliffe, entering the day leading the Big 12 in field goal percentage (77.3), made 6 of 9 shots and added 14 points. He was disappointed with how Missouri started out, and said Haith challenged the team to match Navy's intensity during the first timeout.Asked what he told his team, Haith said, "We need to pick it up a little bit."J.J. Avila scored 26 points for Navy (3-8). The Midshipmen took a 5-0 lead at the outset but trailed 45-26 by halftime."As a team, I thought we played hard," Avila said. "Missouri is a really good team. I think it was a good learning experience for us, playing someone a lot better. I can't say we almost had it, but we played well."This was the first matchup between the teams since the first round of the 1994 NCAA tournament, when the top-seeded Tigers defeated the No. 16 Midshipmen 76-53. Missouri has won all three all-time meetings.Navy entered the game making 51 percent of its shots from inside the arc, compared to 29 percent on 3-point attempts. But the Midshipmen seemed flustered by Missouri's defensive pressure, settling for 25 shot attempts from 3-point range out of 55 overall field goal attempts, including 14 out of 27 in the first half.Size may have contributed to Navy's trouble as Missouri was actually the taller team on the court despite starting four guards. The Tigers used that advantage en route to grabbing a 40-29 advantage in rebounds and scoring 36 points in the paint."It's hard when you're on the road, I don't care who you are," first-year coach Ed DeChellis said. "It's just really hard to win on the road. It's really challenging to win when you're a young team and everything is new to them."With 13 freshmen and sophomores and only one senior who sees significant playing time, DeChellis says his team has improved from the outset of the season."We're trying to grow, mature and develop," DeChellis said.Five players scored in double figures for Missouri, which shot 49.1 percent from the field and entered the day leading the Big 12 in field goal percentage (51.1)."We have guys that offensively are capable of scoring in double figures any night," Denmon said. "It depends on the team we're playing and who's making shots that night. But it just shows that we have guys who are capable."Navy was able to grab more inside looks in the second half, including a 24-7 run near the end. The Midshipmen pulled within 17 points with 3:25 remaining in the game but could get no closer."It's easier to slow teams down than it is to speed teams up," Missouri guard Kim English said. "They did a good job playing the game they wanted. We adjusted, and got out of here with a win."Having already played 11 games, the Midshipmen now get a break, playing only two games in the next three weeks. Their next game is Dec. 22 at Presbyterian.Missouri next faces Kennesaw State and William & Mary at home before traveling to St. Louis to face Illinois (No. 22 ESPN/USA Today, No. 24 AP) on Dec. 22 in the teams' annual Braggin' Rights game.