Sun February 18, 2024

By Lance Hawley

Arkansas Falls to Mississippi State Late
By Otis Kirk

Arkansas held a 67-65 lead with 1:07 remaining in Saturday's game against Mississippi State, but the Bulldogs scored the final six points to take a 71-67 victory.

The game was surprisingly very close the entire way. The largest lead of the game was eight points, 25-17, with 8:04 remaining in the first half. Eric Musselman pointed out several players were unable to play, but the effort by his team was outstanding.

"Incredible effort," Musselman said. "An All-League player in (Trevon) Brazile, he’s been out now a good portion of time at 6-11. Obviously Jalen Graham out, unavailable. (Keyon) Menifield (injured hamstring) unavailable in the second half. Effort - unbelievable tonight. I thought we played really, really hard. I thought we played extremely hard against Tennessee in the first half. Today’s second half was really good.

"We added some defensive stuff. We added some offensive standpoint. And then you run into foul trouble so Menifield is unavailable. Brazile is unavailable. Graham is unavailable and T. Mark fouls out as does (Khalif) Battle and (Makhi) Mitchell. From an effort standpoint, I know our fans, I know our locker room, I know our coaching staff, nobody ever wants to lose a basketball game. But if anybody faults the effort tonight they do not know basketball. Guys were playing really, really hard. Guys were playing completely out of position.  We started a 4-guard lineup."

After El Ellis gave the Hogs a 67-65 lead, Josh Hubbard quickly put the home team back in front 68-67 with a trey. A turnover by Arkansas and then three free throws for the Bulldogs set the final score.

Cam Matthews had 17 points, 10 rebounds and three assists for Mississippi State. Hubbard added 19 to lead the Bulldogs in scoring. Musselman credited Matthews with hurting the Hogs.

"Chandler Lawson did a great job defensively, six rebounds in 19 minutes," Musselman said. "Khi Mitchell absolutely played incredible basketball. Not just offensively with his 21 points and nine rebounds. But the guys did a great job getting Tolu Smith into foul trouble. They did a great job, probably a season low for shots attempted for Smith. Obviously the guy who really hurt us was Cam Matthews. He’s a power forward and we really didn’t have a power forward. To be honest we give ourselves a chance to win if we don’t have T.Mark foul out, Battle  foul out and Khi actually fouled out."

Musselman also pointed to the disparity in number of free throws. The Bulldogs attempted 32 free throws hitting 19 of them. Arkansas went to the line 19 times total and made 14. To have a chance to win late with that much difference in foul totals surprised Musselman.

"A miracle at some junctures that it was what it was because you look at the free throws attempted, 32 to 19," Musselman said. "They are a physical team and we are one of the highest free throw attempt teams in the last 10 years of college basketball. And then you look at the free throw discrepancy.

"Well we were getting whistled," Musselman said. "We had three guys foul out. They took 32 foul shots.  It doesn’t matter how many clips you send in. It doesn’t matter how much you talk about it. That discrepancy - Coach (Chris) Gans’ team - they are great defensively. They are physical. That free throw discrepancy - it can’t happen."

Mitchell also had a pair of blocks and two steals to go with his 21 points and nine boards. Battle had 18 points, two rebounds and a pair of assists. Mark, as Musselman noted, fouled out. He finished with six points after entering the game as Arkansas' leading scorer. Davonte "Devo" Davis and Ellis each had eight points.

Arkansas entered the game with the goal to cut down on turnovers and did just that. They committed eight to 14 for Mississippi State.

"This is a very high steal team," Musselman said. "They had three steals. We did a great job taking care of the basketball. Eight turnovers. You tell me before the game we’re only going to have eight turnovers and they are only going to have three steals. And Tolu Smith, that was our game plan. How do we limit his touches? How do we get him in foul trouble? How do we get turnovers? Smith had four turnovers, six attempts. So the guys followed the game plan. They played with great energy. We didn’t have a power forward and their power went 6 for 7 and 10 free throws attempted, 10 boards and 17 points and that’s too much to overcome."

With the win, Mississippi State advances to 17-8, 6-6. Arkansas (12-13, 3-9) will be at Texas A&M (15-10, 6-6) on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. on ESPN. The Aggies fell to Alabama 100-75 on Saturday. The Razorbacks defeated Texas A&M 78-77 earlier in the season.