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FAYETTEVILLE — It was far from a work of art, but Arkansas overcame an atrocious start and picked up its fourth straight SEC win Tuesday night.
The Razorbacks missed 15 straight shots at one point and had to rally from a 13-point deficit in their 61-45 win over Mississippi State inside Bud Walton Arena.
The victory moves Arkansas into fourth place in the SEC standings ahead of Wednesday’s slate, as it is now 14-5 overall with a 6-4 mark in conference play. The Bulldogs dropped to 10-9 (4-6 SEC).
“The Mississippi State team is toughness, rebounding, and I thought we went toe to toe with them tonight, which is huge,” head coach Eric Musselman said. “We can win a game ugly, and grimy and ugly.”
Defense was the story of the game for Arkansas, which allowed its fewest points in an SEC game since beating Mississippi State 61-41 in 2015. The Razorbacks did it by forcing 26 turnovers and out-rebounding the Bulldogs 45-34.
That was especially important early because to say Arkansas got off to an ugly start Tuesday night would be an understatement.
Four of the Razorbacks’ five starters committed a turnover in the game’s first three minutes and, other than a tip-in by Davonte Davis, they were ice cold when they did get a shot off.
The only saving grace for Arkansas was that it was just as ugly on Mississippi State’s end. The first six minutes of the game saw the two teams combine for eight turnovers and make just 2 of 14 field goals.
“Everything starts on the defensive end,” Connor Vanover said. “We knew we just need to lock down on defense, and our offense would flow off of our defense.”
While the Razorbacks kept throwing up bricks, some of the Bulldogs’ shots eventually started falling and they built a 16-3 lead a little more than midway through the half.
At one point during the stretch, Desi Sills hit the floor hard on a drive to the basket and immediately started holding his shoulder in obvious pain. While the trainer was tending to him, Musselman received a technical for yelling at the officials for not calling a foul on the play.
It didn’t seem to spark Arkansas, though, and neither did the timeout Musselman called at the 10:47 mark following a wide open three-pointer by Jalen Johnson.
Moses Moody finally knocked down a jump shot a couple of minutes later, ending the Razorbacks’ nearly 10-minute field goal drought. They had missed their previous 15 shots – including eight beyond the arc – in a 1-of-17 start, during which they also committed eight turnovers.
Following a pair of free throws by Tolu Smith, Davis scored back-to-back buckets in a 26-second span that woke Arkansas’ offense from its slumber and started a 23-2 run.
“I thought they kind of squeezed us and strangled our movement multiple option plays,” Musselman said. “We just went straight to pick-and-rolls. We picked apart mismatches. We knew who they were going to switch with, and we just isolated them to be honest.”
The Razorbacks scored 12 straight, highlighted by a couple of steals underneath their own basket, before Iverson Molinar made a couple of free throws. Moody answered that with a three-pointer – Arkansas’ first of the night – to tie the game at 20-20 with 3:17 left in the half and start a stretch of another 11 straight points.
“We were struggling at the beginning of the game to put the ball in the basket, so we had to turn it up on the defensive end and we did that,” Davis said. “We had them turn the ball over and we actually converted down the stretch, which was very good, and we went on a couple runs.”
Mississippi State went more than nine minutes without a field goal until a loose ball ended up in Abdul Ado’s hands directly beneath the goal for an easy dunk at the buzzer. However, Arkansas still took a 28-22 lead into halftime despite its miserable start and trailing by as many as 13.
D.J. Stewart Jr., who was limited to just two points in the first half, knocked down a jumper in the paint to start the second half and pull the Bulldogs within four, but that was as close as they’d get.
That was about the extent of the damage done by Stewart and Molinar, who came into the game averaging a combined 35.2 points. They managed just 14 combined points against the Razorbacks, who used their trap defense to limit them to only 14 total shot attempts.
“They were just containing us, making us give up the ball and put it in other players’ hands,” Stewart said. “We didn’t make those plays.”
Arkansas immediately answered with a 10-0 run to give it some breathing room.
It led by as many as 16 before an 11-0 run by the Bulldogs pulled them within five. The Razorbacks ended it with a fast break capped by a Vanover dunk. The 7-foot-3 big man has faced heavy criticism in recent weeks, but he added another dunk and then knocked down a three-pointer for seven quick points.
That was part of a 13-point, 8-rebound effort by Vanover and it put Arkansas up by double digits for good with 7:24 remaining.
“I’m really proud of the way that Connor played,” Musselman said. “He went toe to toe inside. He didn’t back down from anybody. I thought he played with incredible toughness.”
Coming into the game, Vanover was just 4 of 21 from beyond the arc and missed the potential game-winner Saturday at Oklahoma State, plus missed his first three attempts Tuesday.
However, Musselman said he never told Vanover to stop shooting and that confidence resulted in him making the dagger against Mississippi State.
“He knows that I’m not going to force any bad shots and that I’m going to keep getting the open shot and I can knock it down,” Vanover said. “So it’s really good that he believes in me that I’ll be able to one game hit a couple in a row and really…open a game up for us.”
The Bulldogs shot an abysmal 30.6 percent from the floor, but – despite coming into the game as one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the country – grabbed only eight offensive boards, compared to Arkansas’ 30 defensive rebounds.
That limited the Bulldogs to only eight second-chance points.
“The amazing thing about this stat from the rebounding (is) we hold them to eight (offensive rebounds),” Musselman said. “Our goal was to hold them under nine. … There were a boatload of misses and we corralled the majority of those.”
Justin Smith notched a double-double for Arkansas with 10 points and a team-high 10 rebounds, while Vanover and Davis each had eight rebounds to go along with their 13 and 10 points, respectively.
Moody nearly matched their stat lines, finishing with 13 points and seven rebounds. Throw in three rebounds apiece by Jalen Tate and JD Notae, plus one by Sills, and the Razorbacks’ guards combined for 22 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Ado – the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-11 big man – managed just one rebound and Smith – a 6-foot-10 big man – grabbed five. Their six rebounds were well below their combined season average of 15.3.
“One of the fiercest rebounders in our league had one total rebound,” Musselman said. “And it wasn’t just our centers that had that impact, it was our guards folding back and double-squeezing him on shots that went up for him.”
Arkansas is scheduled to return to action Saturday with another home game against Texas A&M. Tip off is scheduled for 5 p.m. CT and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.
Published: 2021-02-03 07:06:59
Tags: #Arkansas #Razorbacks #lock #Mississippi #State #Bulldogs #ugly #win