Bulldogs Bite Hogs

FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas Razorbacks leading scorer JD Notae remained in Fayetteville reported ill Wednesday afternoon while Mississippi State  forward Tolu Smith rolled off the injured list for the Bulldogs.

That combination  in Wednesday afternoon’s SEC men’s basketball opener figured heavily in the Bulldogs dominating, 81-68 at State’s Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss.

Smith a 6-10 forward previously playing just four games because of injured feet, scored a team-leading 18 points including 8 of 10 free throws and six rebounds and a game-leading five steals.

Arkansas obviously netted nothing from Notae back in Fayetteville nor anything from reserve forward Kamani Johnson, “indefinitely suspended,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman  announced for reasons Musselman did not disclose.

Johnson, the transfer power forward via the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, had just posted his best ever Razorbacks game scoring a season high 15 points with six rebounds and three blocked shots in last week’s 81-55 victory over Elon University at Walton Arena.

Also rarely used freshman forward Chance Moore was left home, with an illness.

The omicron covid variant has been detected in Arkansas, but Musselman didn’t define either illness afflicting Notae and Moore and took pains to give Coach Ben Howland’s Bulldogs their due.

“I thought Mississippi State played harder than us,” Musselman said opening his postgame radio interview.

Particularly in the second half.  Only leading 33-31 at intermission and slightly outrebounded at half  the Bulldogs broke it open the second stanza.  They dominated the second half boards to finish up 39-31 for the game while outscoring Arkansas, 25-12 on turnovers. Arkansas turned it over 17 times to Mississippi State’s 12.

“We hung around on the glass in the first half,” Musselman said which helped Arkansas lead early, 15-10. “But you know when you have 17 turnovers on the road it’s going to be really hard for anybody to win.  And then when you’re not turning them over, only five steals for us to 12, that’s extra possessions and then you add the extra possession with offensive rebounding it’s too much to overcome.”

So was State penetrating so effectively to attempt 28 free throws, hitting 22, to Arkansas’ 10 of 14

Certainly no Notae didn’t help Arkansas, either.

“ I think any time you have a couple of players (out), one that is in the rotation and the leading scorer in the league, there’s going to be some different roles and things you are not used to,” Musselman said.   “But we’re a no excuse team.  We got on a plane to come here and try to compete and Mississippi State outplayed us.”

Losing three of their last four, the Razorbacks, 10-3 overall/ 0-1 in the SEC, next play the Vanderbilt Commodores in Tuesday’s 7:30 p.m. SEC Network televised SEC game at Walton Arena.

“So now we’ve got to go back to the drawing board and prepare for Vanderbilt,” Musselman said.  “We definitely have to improve in a lot of areas.”

Could Notae return by Tuesday’s game?

I have no idea whether he’ll be back for the game or not,” Musselman said.  “It’s out of my hands. I don’t know when he’ll be back. We’ll just have to take it day by day I guess.”

Musselman did not elaborate about Johnson’s suspension.

“I’m not going to comment [on Johnson],” Musselman said.  “I know Mike (Cawood, Arkansas’ basketball sports information director) put out a release, and that’s where it is.”

Howland’s Bulldogs improved to 10-3 overall and 1-0 in the SEC  and next play Missouri in next Wednesday’s SEC game at Columbia, Mo.

Smith led State’s scoring and was co-starred inside by 6-10 former North Carolina center Garrison Brooks ‘ game-leading 10 Bulldogs rebounds.

“I mean, 10 FTAs,” Musselman said of Smith’s 8 of 10 free throw attempts.  “He establishes really good post position. He’s an excellent rebounder. He’s a phenomenal interior player.  

I thought Mississippi State was really, really physical.”

And big.  

“Brooks is 6-10,” Musselman said.  “He had 10 boards. You look at Tolu Smith’s four on the offensive glass. And then their backup center came in and had five offensive, rebounds. Javion Davis is one of the best offensive rebounding players per minute.  Then for us on the interior, (power forwards) Trey Wade played 22 minutes and didn’t have a rebound. Stanley (Umude) only had two defensive rebounds.”

However Umude, only two points against Elon, scored a game high 19  points Saturday including 2 of 4 treys among 7 for 12 overall from the field.

“ I thought he was really good offensively and really has to improve at the other end as well,” Musselman said.  “Baseline out of bounds defense, he has to become much better but certainly his 7 for 12 and knocking down 2 fo 4 from the 3-point line.”

Despite foul trouble limiting him to nine first-half minutes, Arkansas guard Devo Davis scored 15 points.

Four Bulldogs scored double figures led by Smith’s 18, guards Iverson Molinar, a junior 3-year letterman   and Shakeel Moore, formerly of North Carolina State, 16 and 15 and  transfer forward via Memphis DJ. Jeffries tallying 10. 

“Obviously I am really happy and grateful for the win,” Howland said. “I thought Tolu’s minutes were spectacular when you consider he had only practiced about 10 times in the last four months. He was really good.”

Howland addressed Notae’s absence.

“In fairness to Arkansas, they did not have their best player,” Howland said.  “Notae was not available today. I hope it is not covid for his sake and their sake. He is a spectacular player so we will probably see him when  we return this game (Feb. 5 at Walton Arena)  down in Fayetteville later this season.”

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