That sound you hear coming out of the Ozarks is the alert to the world that this Razorback team has now won two road games this season and found their way back to a .500 SEC record. Progress!
Of course, it wasn't easy. It never is. Going into Saturday, there had been 93 SEC basketball games played this season. Twenty-one of them have been decided by four points or went into overtime. Now, seven of those games (one-third) have involved the Razorbacks. That's just who we are, apparently.
Arkansas suffered one of their trademark scoring droughts at a bad time - only scoring two points in the last 6:50 - but fortunately for the Hogs, the 15-point lead they'd built was enough for them to hang on for the victory.
The big story of the game was Anthlon Bell's huge performance. He'd only scored in double figures once since Maui, but set a career high against the Bulldogs with 19 points. And only nine of them came from behind the three point line. He was 5-7 on two-point attempts. That's exactly what Arkansas needs from Bell. He came into the game shooting 45.5% on two-point shots, but had attempted about 60 more three point shots on the season. He can be an effective scorer from inside the arc. Hopefully, this will give his career a kickstart.
Coty Clarke only scored two points, but had nine rebounds and seven assists. You could argue his last rebound was the biggest play of the game.
Mississippi State had cut the lead to five with under two minutes to play. Arkansas took about 20 seconds off the clock before Clarke took a long jumper. He missed, but ran into the paint to claim his own rebound, allowing the Hogs to take another 35 seconds off the game clock. That had a severe effect on the Bulldogs' opportunities to score enough to tie or take the lead.
The two points in the last several minutes Arkansas was able to score came from Michael Qualls on a jump shot with 3:00 left. Mississippi State was further slowed on their run when I.J. Ready drove into the lane in an attempt to score quickly - something the Bulldogs had been having success in doing, but Bobby Portis was there for the block. The Bulldogs still hit a three, but it took them 20 seconds to get the shot off, throwing off their rhythm.
That three came from Colin Borchert, who came into the game shooting just 29% from three, but was on fire Saturday hitting a career high 5-of-6 from beyond the arc for 21 points.
Both teams were bad from the free throw line, but Mississippi State was a little worse, shooting just 10-21 (47.6%). They'll surely be kicking themselves about that. Arkansas wasn't much better at 9-17, and the Hogs are fortunate it didn't cost them.
Qualls had 15 points and Portis had 13. Rashad Madden had nine and Alandise Harris had eight. Moses Kingsley only had two but they were spectacular. He took his 6'10" body racing downcourt to chase down a ball that appeared destined for out of bounds, kept his dribble in stride from the layup line in front of Mike Anderson, and after just a couple of dribbles took the ball up for a dunk. He also had two steals, an assist, a rebound, and a block in his 14 minutes.
The road victory pushes Arkansas back up to 7-7 and in a five-way tie for fifth place in the SEC standings with four games to go. The Hogs have now won five of their last six games and get a big opportunity this week with a trip to Lexington. The Wildcats beat LSU at home on Saturday but needed overtime to do it. After the game against the Wildcats, Arkansas gets Georgia and Ole Miss in Fayetteville.
Mississippi State's RPI isn't high enough to give Arkansas much of a boost despite the game being in Starkville, but, like the South Carolina game, it's a game Arkansas needed to have a decent chance at a strong finish. It would have been a huge setback to lose to the Bulldogs, but the Razorbacks pulled it out and put themselves in position to make things interesting.