Arkansas vs. Mississippi State Advance

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – If tonight’s Arkansas vs. Mississippi State game was baseball instead of basketball, MSU’s Bulldogs would be the wily pitcher changing speeds.
Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks, 13-5 overall/5-4 in the SEC, host Coach Ben Howland’s Bulldogs, 10-8, 4-5, at 8 tonight at Walton Arena on the SEC Network.
“Coach Ben Howland will try and control tempo,” Musselman said Sunday on his Eric Musselman Live radio show. “They actually are good at running the ball when they get out and push it, but they are a team that’s methodical in the halfcourt as well. You have to be able to play both styles.”
Veteran guards Iverson Molinar and DJ Stewart control MSU’s pace often a grind it out beat you up inside game featuring big men Tolu Smith, 6-10, 245, and Abdul Ado, 6-11, 255.
“Two star guards in Molinar and DJ Stewart,” Musselman said Sunday.“Two players up front in Tolu Smith and Ado. Two guys inside that are great dunking players meaning on the baseline they dunk in, and the two guards score in transition.”
Molinar and Stewart each average 17.6 points per game.
“Molinar shoots 50 percent from 3,” Musselman said. “We don’t have two guys shooting 50 percent from point blank rim range. I’m worried about Molinar’s ability to dribble drive and shoot the 3. The same thing with their left-handed wing DJ Stewart. And Stewart shoots 37 percent from 3.”
Doubly dangerous and percentage and obviously percentage effective.
“They both are high percentage-low volume,” Musselman said. “We have the opposite. High volume-low percentage. We are going to have to do an awfully good job defending both those guys and keep them in front because they are both really good drivers.”
Also Mississippi State doesn’t foul much, a factor that hurt Arkansas in its 81-77 closely contested SEC vs. Big 12 Challenge loss at Oklahoma State last Saturday while in the SEC vs. Big 12 Challenge game at Starkville, Miss., the Bulldogs blew away the Iowa State Cyclones, 95-56.
Saturday’s success broke a 3-game MSU losing streak, all in the SEC, with its last SEC game a 56-53 battle against 18th-ranked Tennessee which went on to rout Big 12 power Kansas last Saturday.
The Bulldogs are not a particularly deep team relying mainly on swingman Jaylen Johnson and guard Deivon Smith behind the aforementioned four starters and forward Cameron Matthews.
However Arkansas is not apt to have its customary depth up front. Jaylin Williams, the rugged 6-10 freshman from Fort Smith Northside, missed the second half of Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State with a “severe bone bruise” in his knee, Musselman said and was unable to practice Sunday.
“It’s day to day,” Musselman said. “There is no structural damage but it’s whatever pain he can tolerate and it’s very, very painful.”
Williams often plays more off the bench than 7-3 center starting center Connor Vanover plays in games and also can spell 6-7 starting forward Justin Smith.
“We’re playing against a physical team, a team against you hope Jaylin could help us,” Musselman said. “Connor has to block shots. I think he’s had 10 blocks the last two games which is a lot of blocks because that’s not counting the shots he is altering. But we are going to need somebody else to come in and play whether that’s Ethan Henderson (the 6-8 junior 2-year letterman) he’s got to be physical against their frontline. Vance Jackson (the 6-9 grad transfer via the University of New Mexico) if he played that spot would have to be able to stretch their bigs away from the basket and make shots.”
Arkansas graduate transfer point guard Jalen Tate, playing so well during the Hogs’ 3-game SEC winning streak,, struggled at Oklahoma State. Musselman expects a resurgence with Tate so needed offensively running the team and defensively against Molinar and Stewart.
“I think he knows we need more from him than what we got at Oklahoma State,” Musselman said during his Monday press conference. “There’s no doubt that the game at Oklahoma State was his worst performance since he’s been here. I think he recognizes that. He’s been in shooting a lot on his own and he’s played really well for us with the exception of a couple of games. Just got to come back and have a good, solid game for us.”

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