FAYETTEVILLE, (Ar.) — Arkansas went into tonight’s game coming off its biggest offensive performance of the year against Kentucky. All seemed to be clicking at the right moment offensively and then the Hogs got some even better news. Rumors swirled around social media as the week progressed that pre-season all-SEC selection and former 247Sports No. 1 recruit Nick Smith Jr would be back for the game against Mississippi State.
Unfortunately, Arkansas’s newfound success on offense even with Nick Smith Jr was short-lived. Mississippi State’s defense is one of the best in the SEC, if not the country, and showed why tonight.
The Hogs started fast with a layup by Makhel Mitchell, a steal by Anthony Black, and a 3-pointer at the other end by Black for a quick 5 points. The Bulldogs then answered with a 3 of its own by Dashawn Davis.
For the next 10 minutes, both teams were equally matched, each having answer for the other. Mississippi State shot lights-out, scoring 8-10 for 81%. The Hogs shot 45% in the same stretch but were only down 23-19. That’s when things began to get out of hand.
Arkansas scored just 6 points in the next 4 minutes and was shut down for the rest of the half. The Hogs stopped driving the ball as much and settled from deep, which has not been their strength all year. The Bulldogs’ shooting began to cool off as their average dropped to 52%, but it was enough to extend the lead 34-25.
The beginning of the next half was just a continuation of the first. Arkansas struggled to score for the first 4 ½ minutes with the lone bucket coming from a dunk from Makhel Mitchell.MSU extended the lead by 16 in the same amount of time.
The Hogs then made back-to-back buckets by Makhi Mitchell and Nick Smith Jr—his first since December 17th. Slowly, Arkansas chipped away at the point deficit to bring back it to within 9 with 11:35. Devo Davis then hit a 3-point shot—his first field goal of the game—that looked like the start of a comeback attempt, but MSU answered every time the Hogs tried to grab momentum.
The Hogs had a chance late. Ricky Council IV’s first field goal of the night with another acrobatic dunk and a layup by Devo Davis cut the lead to 3. On the subsequent inbound, Davis and Anthony Black successfully trapped Cameron Matthews on the baseline. Black reached and cleanly stripped the ball away, but Davis was called for a questionable foul that led to free throws for the Bulldogs instead.
Arkansas began to start fouling out of desperation and, apart from a late 3-pointer by Smith, the Bulldogs finished their upset attempt unscathed. The Hogs lose 70-64.
The Razorback’s second-half offensive performance was much better and saved the stat sheet from looking abysmal. MSU did a great job of limiting both Ricky Council IV and Devo Davis. Both recorded their first field goals in the last 10 minutes of the game.
Arkansas finished shooting 44% (21-48) and 22% (4-18) from deep. Free throws were a big reason the game wasn’t a blowout. Arkansas knocked down 18-26 (69%) from the charity stripe. The Hogs recorded 12 assists but turned the ball over 13 times.
The Hogs let a team that averages 61 points in SEC play score 70 in their house. Eric Musselman prides himself on his teams’ great defense, so it must be a gut punch for him. Arkansas allowed MSU to shoot 47% (27-57) and 60% (6-10) from 3-point range. Arkansas only turned MSU over 12 times, but 8 of those were steals. The Hogs continued their success blocking the ball, denying the shot 7 times.
Anthony Black scored a game-high 23 points, followed by Ricky Council IV with 13 points. All but 2 of Council’s points came from the free-throw line. Three players tied for a team-high in rebounds. Makhel Mitchell, Ricky Council IV, and Devo Davis all recorded 6 boards. Black also led the team with 6 assists.
Arkansas’s schedule does not get easier as they have to travel to College Station to play a Texas A&M team looking for revenge. Tipoff is scheduled for February 15th at 8:00 pm CST.