FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks stormed back from a 17-point second-half deficit to take a 3-point lead with 1:45 to play, but several Hog miscues in the final 90 seconds were punctuated by a Mississippi State tip-in at 0:00.6 to give the Bulldogs a 78-77 road win Saturday in front of 19,200 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
Junior 6-11 forward Abdul Ado’s only score of the game proved to be a game-winning putback as MSU swept the season series between the two teams. Mississippi State (16-9, 7-5 SEC) has now beaten Arkansas (16-9, 4-8 SEC) in six consecutive meetings.
The Hogs have lost four games in a row as part of a 9-game stretch in which they have won only twice. Arkansas also lost its fourth consecutive home game.
In 8 of Arkansas’s 9 defeats, the Hogs lost by a combined margin of 31 points (that’s an average margin of 3.9 points) with Tuesday’s 82-61 setback at Tennessee being the lone lopsided outlier.
“It wasn’t a long talk,” said Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman when asked what he told his team following another close loss. “You know there’s nothing really to tell a team other than you can’t fall behind that much. The effort was phenomenal.”
“We have no margin for error. I’ve been saying it since … you know, we had some errors and it cost us the game.”
After falling behind 56-39 with 14:37 to play, the Hogs patched together a 36-16 surge over the next 12:52 of game time as sophomore guard Desi Sills capped the run with a left-corner three-point basket to give the Hogs a 75-72 lead with 1:45 to play.
That’s when a couple of late mistakes and an air ball on a deep three fed a 6-2 MSU mini run in the final 1:30 to send the Bulldogs home victorious.
Arkansas junior guard Jalen Harris was called for a bump foul on MSU guard Tyson Carter about 15 feet from the basket, Carter made both free throws to pull the ‘Dogs within 75-74 at 1:30, then on Arkansas’s ensuing possession Carter flashed and got a steal on a Harris pass and went coast-to-coast for a dunk at 1:11 to give MSU the lead back, 76-75.
Arkansas junior Mason Jones — the SEC’s leading scorer coming in at 20.0 points per outing — made two free throws at 0:59.7 to cap off his 38-point game as the Hogs reclaimed the lead at 77-76.
After getting a defensive stop, Arkansas had possession of the ball with 37 seconds to play. Jones handled outside and probed for a driving lane — at that point in the game, he had been fouled 13 times and made 18-of-21 free throws — but he was unable to find a crease in the defense and settled for a three-pointer on the left wing that failed to hit the rim with 11 seconds remaining.
MSU rebounded the Jones air ball, Carter drove down the right side of the lane and put up a shot that drew several Hog defenders, allowing Ado to slip in for the game-winning tip-in with under a second remaining. Jones’ heave from 80 feet as time expired fell short.
“We forced him (Carter) into a tough shot, we gave help on the dribble-drive, we defended without fouling, and they had a 7-footer (Ado) reach over us and tap the ball in,” said Musselman, who just experienced his first four-game losing streak in his fifth season as a college head coach. “A couple of our guys kind of fell out of bounds … Tonight, they (Bulldogs) have four offensive rebounds, but the fourth one, you know, won the game for them.”
Arkansas won the overall turnover battle (16-13), but the Hogs’ 10 first-half giveaways and 10 missed layups over the course of the game helped dig that 17-point hole just five minutes into the second half.
The Hogs were only minus-2 on the glass (28-26) against a Mississippi State team that came into the game 10th in the nation in rebounding margin (plus-8).
But the Hogs’ defense was torched for 30-of-51 overall field-goal shooting (58.8%), including 3-of-7 from 3 (42.9%). Arkansas made 24-of-52 field goals (46.2%), including 6-of-16 from 3 (37.5%).
The Bulldogs won fast-break points (26-15), points-in-the-paint (36-28), second-chance points (12-7), and bench scoring (34-2).
After a lopsided free throw disparity — 6-of-11 for the Hogs compared to 27-of-31 for the ‘Dogs — in MSU’s 78-71 win over Arkansas on Jan. 22 in Starkville, Miss., this time it was Arkansas that fared better at the stripe.
The Hogs made 23-of-26 freebies (88.5%), and Jones’ 18 makes were the third-most in a single game in school history, and the most by a Hog in an SEC game. MSU was 15-of-22 from the line (68.2%).
Jones scored 19 points in each half to reach 38 for the game, marking the sixth time this season he’s scored 30 or more points. It was also the fourth time he’s reached 30 points in Arkansas’s last six games. Counting Jones’s two 30-plus-point games from last season, the Hogs are now 1-5 in SEC games when he reaches that milestone.
“Mason did such a great job of drawing FTA’s,” Musselman said of Jones’s knack for drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line. “Look, if we don’t have Mason play at that level, this game’s not close. I thought Mason’s decision-making tonight was phenomenal. He had 38 points in 34 minutes. Certainly Mississippi State’s defense was focused on him. They forced him into a tough shot.”
“But you can’t have a live-ball turnover that ends up in a layup, and then we fouled when we were up three instead of just keeping the ball in front of us.”
Jones also had a team-high-matching 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and only 2 turnovers in 35 minutes.
Sills finished with 15 points — all in the second half — to go with 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and only 2 turnovers in 36 minutes.
Senior forward Adrio Bailey played 28 minutes and had 10 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block, and 4 turnovers. Jimmy Whitt, Jr., played all but 8 seconds of the game and had 8 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 turnovers.
Sophomore 6-8 forwards Reggie Chaney and Ethan Henderson combined for 27 minutes, 6 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 steal.
Carter, a 6-4 senior, led MSU with 26 points off the bench on 8-of-14 field goals, including 2-of-4 from 3, and 8-of-10 free throws. Sophomore 6-8 forward Reggie Perry had 17 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, and 5 turnovers in 36 minutes.
Guards Nick Weatherspoon and DJ Stewart, Jr., each scored 10 points.
Jones had 19 points at halftime — including three and-one three-point plays — but defensively the Hogs were shredded by the Bulldogs’ shooting (18-of-29 from the field for 62.1%, including 1-of-2 from 3).
Jones’ acrobatic bank shot and free throw tied the game at 32-all late in the first half, but MSU closed the first 20 minutes with an 8-0 run capped by the ‘Dogs’ first made three-pointer by Carter that was good for a 40-32 MSU lead at the break.
The Razorbscks were once again sloppy with the basketball, finishing minus-3 in turnovers (10-7). Arkansas shot only 11-of-27 from the field (40.7%).
Up next for Arkansas, the Razorbacks go back on the road to play Florida on Tuesday before returning home for a Saturday, Feb. 22, matchup against Missouri at BWA.