FAYETTEVILLE – For 39:59.4 his offense was much Ado about nothing.
But within the final second at .00.6 Abdul Ado was all the ado about beating Arkansas. For his game’s only points, junior 6-11 center Ado in the final second tipped in Mississippi State Bulldogs teammate Tyson Carter’s miss overcoming the Razorbacks, 78-77 Saturday before a crowd that purchased a sellout 19,200 tickets for the SEC game at Walton Arena.
In stunned silence Arkansas fans left the building. With Mason Jones scoring 38 points for the game and Desi Sills scoring all 15 of his points in the second half, the Razorbacks from down 17 56-39, with 14:37 left in the game to leading by 75-72, on a Sills three at 1:45.
Arkansas lost the lead 76-75 on two Carter free throws plus a Carter steal and layup off a Jalen Harris turnover. Arkansas regained it 77-76 on two Jones free throws, nearly a potential 3-point play with Jones’ shot just rimming out at the last as he was fouled.
Arkansas tried to ice it after Arkansas’ Adrio Bailey,10 points, rebounded Carter’s miss with 37 seconds left.
But with the shot-clock waning and the Bulldogs swarming, Jones’ forced his last shot, an airball with 11 seconds left.
Carter, the sixth man guard leading the Bulldogs with 26 points, hurried down the court. He was well defended and missed. But Ado bid adieu tipping good bye to Coach Eric Musselman’s Hogs.
“We force them into a tough shot,” Musselman said. “We defended without fouling, and they had a 7-footer reach over us and tap the ball in. They have (only) four offensive rebounds, but the fourth one won the game for them.”
Arkansas and Mississippi State are both 16-9 overall but trending differently in the SEC.
Coach Ben Howland’s Bulldogs a 7-5 SEC record home to host South Carolina Wednesday in Starkville, Miss. where the Bulldogs beat Arkansas, 77-70 on Jan. 22.
Arkansas has lost four consecutive SEC games and goes 4-8 into Tuesday night’s SEC game at Florida.
The Hogs lost their last game, badly, 82-61at Tennessee, and even worse in effort, Musselman said postgame that Tuesday night, in Knoxville.
He praised the Hogs’ heart and Jones to the skies in Saturday’s postgame.
“The effort was phenomenal,” Musselman said.
And Jones even more so. His 34, 30 and 40 points tear interrupted hitting just 3 of 14 shots in the previous Saturday’s overtime loss at Missouri and 1 of 10 at Tennessee with defenses all over him because No.2 Arkansas scorer Isaiah Joe is now five games sidelined since knee surgery, Jones drove MSU to distraction Saturday. The 6-5 junior guard only hit 2 of 7 treys Saturday but his drives inside bedeviled the Bulldogs into frequent fouling. For the game, Jones went 21 times to the free throw line and hit 18. Jones tied guard Jimmy Whitt with a team-leading six rebounds, just two less than Bulldogs 6-10 star forward Reggie Perry.
“If we don’t have Mason play at this level, this game’s not close,” Musselman said. “I thought Mason’s decision-making today was phenomenal. He had 38 points in 34 minutes.”
The opposition also was impressed.
“Jones is absolutely incredible,” Howland said. “One of the best players in all of college basketball. His understanding and his feel for the games is incredible.”
Carter was impressed, too.
“Hell of a player,” Carter said. “He’s one of the toughest players that I’ve played against at getting to the free throw line.I don’t think I’ve ever played against somebody that took 21 free throws in a game.”
Jones was asked about maybe trying to drive to the hole and possibly get fouled instead of the jumper that didn’t connect before Carter took it the other way.
“They weren’t going to let me get to the hole,” Jones said. “You’ve got to give their guys props. Their defense packed the lane. I was trying to go right but I saw no path to the right and I see the shot clock go down to like five seconds. I wanted to get a shot up. You know …”
He paused, trying to gather still breaking emotions.
“This loss right here is really -it hurts,” Jones said. “To see our guys fight so hard to come back from down 17 in the second half knowing people probably thought we were out and us fighting and us losing on a buzzer beater is sickening. This is probably the worst feeling I’ve had all year knowing we fought so hard and we were so close.”
Sills drew Jones, Musselman and Howland praise too for his explosive second half.
Of course Carter, his 26 points supported by Perry’s 17 and 10 each from guards Nick Weatherspoon, plagued with five turnovers, and D.J. Stewart’s 10 and especially Ado’s two, drew praise, too.
“I thought he played really, really well,” Musselman said.
So did Arkansas. But committing 10 turnovers for a third straight first half dug a 40-32 hole at Saturday’s intermission capped haunted them again. Missed layups haunted them both halves.
“The first half you can’t have three or four travels or whatever we have,” Musselman said. “And then just a ton of missed layups. I thought our guys played as hard as we possibly could. We just have no margin for error.”
Photos courtesy of Crant Osborne