Published November 20, 2014
Tony Shaver simply couldn't explain his team's horrendous start against No. 10 Missouri on Sunday.
"It's a good question," the ninth-year coach responded when asked how William & Mary trailed 19-0 to open the game before eventually falling 94-56.
The Tribe missed their first eight shots while committing five fouls and 10 turnovers and didn't score until nearly 12 minutes into the game. They made just five first-half baskets as Missouri took a 44-18 lead.
"We just missed so many easy shots early in the game," Shaver said. "Some of that has to do with their defense and their athleticism. We have to make those plays early in the game."
Forward Tim Rusthoven, who missed his team's first six games with injuries, led the Tribe (2-9) with 14 points. He attributed William & Mary's slow start to a collective case of the jitters.
"We were just kind of nervous getting out there," Rusthoven said. "Everyone was excited to play but once we got rolling, we were able to get good shots."
Marcus Thornton and Matt Rum each added 10 points, and William & Mary was able to recover somewhat in the second half as it scored 20 points in the first 5 minutes, including a 15-4 run that led to a timeout by Missouri coach Frank Haith.
Sixth-man Michael Dixon led the Tigers (11-0) with a career-high 30 points for the team's best start in two decades. That obliterated his previous high of 19 points, set just four games earlier against Northwestern State.
Haith considers Dixon his sixth starter, and the junior guard's average of 26.2 minutes exceeds or is nearly equal to the time spent on the court by senior starters Ricardo Ratliffe and Matt Pressey.
"When he subs in, other teams are subbing in," Haith said. "Mike Dixon's like a starter. So he's playing against other team's subs. I like that matchup."
Kim English added 17 points for Missouri, which last started a season with 11 straight wins under long-time Tigers coach Norm Stewart 20 years ago at the old Hearnes Center.
Ratliffe and Pressey contributed 11 points each as Missouri outscored William & Mary 48-24 in the paint and shot 60 percent for the game. The game-opening run featured a crowd-pleasing dunk by Pressey on an alley-oop pass from his younger brother Phil.
Marcus Denmon, Missouri's leading scorer entering the game with a 20.9 average, was held to seven points on 3-of-11 shooting and went scoreless for most of the first half until converting a reverse layup off a lob pass as he fell to the ground.
That highlight earned the biggest cheer of the day — at least until the game announcer reported that the Kansas City Chiefs upset the previously unbeaten Green Bay Packers, or when senior reserve forward Andrew Jones — who joined the team several weeks ago to help shore up a thin front line missing injured starter Laurence Bowers — scored his first two points of the season with free throws in garbage time.
Missouri entered the game outscoring its opponents by an average of 26.7 points. The Tigers' scoring average of 87.3 was second in the NCAA.
Dixon, who shot 13 of 19 for the game with three 3-pointers, two assists and three steals, credited his teammates for recognizing who had the hot hand. His early scoring flurry was aided by several fast-break layups off turnovers. Aside from Denmon, no other Missouri player took more than six shots.
Haith, is in his first season at Missouri, compared Dixon to sixth-man Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks, who helped lead his team to the NBA title last season. Dixon typically enters the game alongside starting point guard Phil Pressey, meaning he can heat up on offense without having to worry about distributing the ball.
"Mike has a chance to relax," Haith said. "He's getting a sweat going before he handles the ball as a point.
"I love everything about him, his tenacity, his toughness," Haith added. "He has a lot of swag. Mike has really bought into the role."
Missouri is one of just seven unbeaten teams in Division I, joining Syracuse, Louisville, Baylor, Marquette, Indiana and Murray State.
After shooting just 22.7 percent in the first half, William & Mary nearly doubled its success rate in the second, shooting 45.2 percent. The Tribe finished the game hitting 19 of 53 shots (35. 8 percent). They converted just 5 of 22 attempts from beyond the arc.
"Even though we gave up (94) points, I thought we competed really hard on the defensive end and showed a glimpse of life there in the second half," Shaver said. "We wanted to play a lot better than we did. Two years ago we won at Maryland; two years ago we won at Wake Forest. We want to get to the point where we can win these games."
Alan Scher Zagier can be reached at http://twitter.com/azagier