FAYETTEVILLE – Despite their early start furnishing more turnovers than a busy bakery could bake and missing more shots than a carnival’s rigged shoot for a kewpie doll, the Arkansas Razorbacks “played well,” Coach Eric Musselman said downing the Mississippi State Bulldogs, 61-45 in Tuesday night’s late SEC men’s basketball game at Walton Arena.
Arkansas advances to 14-5 overall/6-4 in the SEC going into hosting Texas A&M in Saturday’s 5 p.m. SEC game at Walton Arena.
Coach Ben Howland’s Bulldogs drop to 10-9, 4-6.
Musselman admitted the Hogs started “really, really ugly from a shooting standpoint” trailing 16-3 at the game’s outset and averaging over a turnover a per minute for nearly half the first half.
But Musselman noted most of the Hogs 10 first half turnovers were dead ball out of bounds and travels.
The Bulldogs mostly miscued in the open court in their 14 for the first half which Arkansas would lead, 28-22.
For the game the Hogs got the Dogs to slop 26 times. Off turnovers Arkansas outscored MSU, 25-4.
“We did a really good job of capitalizing on that,” Musselman said, “And obviously the fast break points at 16-4 was a huge factor for us as well.”
Guards Iverson Molinar and DJ Stewart and forward Tolu Smith, MSU’s three best players, turned it over 13 times combined.
Molinar and Stewart entered the game each averaging 17.6 points.
Bedeviled by Arkansas’ trapping defense, they scored but Molinar’s six and Stewart’s eight Tuesday.
“We spent the last 48 hours really talking about Molinar and Stewart and trying to eliminate their field goals attempted and their field goals attempted” Musselman said. “I thought we did a great job. They took four free throws between the two of them. It was a great job by multiple people. We forced turnovers. Our frontcourt and backcourt traps were really good. It got the ball out of their (Molinar’s and Stewart’s) hands and forced other people shooting the ball.”
The Dogs knew what the Hogs were doing but could do nothing to stop it.
“They were just containing us, making us give up the ball and put it in other player’s hands” Stewart said. “We didn’t make those plays.”
Howland remarked, “It was something that we worked on. We had turnovers all throughout the team. We are not going to beat anybody in Division 1 with 26 turnovers.”
Tolu Smith’s 10 points led MSU.
Led by starters Justin Smith, 10 points, Connor Vanover and Moses Moody, sharing game high 13 points honors, and Davonte “Devo” Davis, 10 points, respectively grabbing 10, 8, 7 and 8 rebounds, Arkansas outrebounded MSU, 45-34 including 15 Arkansas offensive rebounds.
“I thought we were phenomenal rebounding the ball against a really physical rebounding team,” Musselman said. “I thought Connor did a great job on the backline with three (shot) blocks again today.”
Remarkably given their abysmal start, the Razorbacks led 28-22 at intermission.
Following Davis game’ first basket tip-in at 18:14, the
Razorbacks reeled from more turnovers than points.
The Bulldogs went on a 14-0 run more of a crawl during the morass of turnovers and missed shots.
At 8:16 Arkansas shot 1 for 16 from the field, 0 for 8 on treys, and commit its 10th and final first-half turnover at 6:13.
But the Bulldogs would only hit 5 of their first 18 shots and just one of their last four while committing 14 first-half turnovers.
A Moody trey tied it 20-20 as Arkansas scored 23 of the half’s last 27 points.
Moody’s steal and dunk made it 28-20 with 27 seconds left. MSU center Abdu Ado, whose last second dunk nipped, 77-76 Arkansas, last season at Walton,. picked up a loose ball dunk, to cut it 28-22 at Tuesday’s halftime buzzer.
Arkansas led by 16 early in the second half but hit a dead spot for MSU to cut it to seven before 7-3 center Vanover spreed a personal 7-0 run.
“That was amazing,” ‘Davis said. “Everyone kept telling him to shoot the ball. We know Connor can shoot, and we know he’s a great player on both ends of the court.”
Musselman reported junior guard Desi Sills, not reentering the game after injuring a shoulder, suffered a “stinger” and should be OK against Texas A&M Saturday.
Moody played 37 minutes despite not practicing Monday from injuring his ankle in Sunday’s practice, Musselman said.
Arkansas freshman reserve forward Jaylin Williams “gutted it out” for nine minutes Tuesday, Musselman said, despite the “severe bone bruise” on his knee during last Saturday’s 81-77 loss at Oklahoma State.