By Kevin McPherson
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ bid to once again romp through the SEC in February hit a snag on Saturday as visiting Mississippi State defeated the Razorbacks, 70-64, at Bud Walton Arena.
Arkansas (17-8, 6-6 SEC) had its five-game league winning streak snapped while falling to 11-2 at home on the season (the Hogs are 2-5 in true road games as part of an overall 6-6 mark in games played away from BWA).
The Hogs are now 2-1 in February in ’22-23 as the program has lost only two games in its last 17 February tilts going back to the 2020-21 campaign. Arkansas had not lost at home in February since the ’19-20 campaign when the Razorbacks lost against Mississippi State, 77-76, on Feb. 15, 2020.
Mississippi State (17-8, 5-7 SEC) has now won five consecutive games as the ‘Dogs improved to 2-4 on the road in league play.
The Bulldogs saw their 16-point second-half lead whittled down to three, 60-57, with 1:22 to play, but MSU made 2-of-3 field goals and 6-of-6 free throws in the final 1:13 to ice the win.
Arkansas freshman guard Anthony Black led the Hogs with 23 points (8-of-13 field goals, including 2-of-5 from 3, and 5-of-6 free throws), 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block. But starting junior guards Ricky Council IV and Davonte “Devo” Davis combined to shoot only 3-of-17 from the field, including 1-of-7 from 3. Council made 11-pf-13 free throws as he finished with 13 points.
Arkansas freshman guard Nick Smith, Jr., made his SEC debut after midsing the last 13 games and had 5 points (2-of-7 field golas, including 1-of-4 from 3, and 0-of-1 free throw) 1 rebound, 1 assist, and a boxscore plus-3 in 17 minutes off the bench.
“It’s not a good feeling,” Black said. “I mean, we just lost. We lost a game that we shouldn’t have lost. We got outplayed and we lost, so it’s a bad feeling.”
MSU was led by Dashawn Davis (17 points), Shakeel Moore (12 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists), Tolu Smith (11 points and 8 rebounds), and Cam Matthews (10 points).
The ‘Dogs shot 27-of-57 from the field (47.4%), including 6-of-10 (60%), and 10-of-16 at the free throw line (62.5%). Defensively, MSU held the Hogs to 21-of-48 shooting from the field (43.8%), including 4-of-18 from 3 (22.2%), and 18-of-26 at the foul line (69.2%).
MSU won points-in-the-paint (36-28), turnovers (13-12), points-off-turnovers (16-9), rebounding (33-31, including 10-8 on the offensive glass), second-chance-points (11-8), and bench scoring (16-9). The Hogs won fastbreak scoring (18-24).
“Obviously, give Mississippi State a ton of credit,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said. “I thought they were really physical. Proud of the second half effort, scoring 41 points. Defensively, first half, not who we are at all. First half offensively not who we are.
“Their guards, I thought Moore and Dashawn Davis did an excellent job. Those two guys, their shot selection from three going four of five. Tough to overcome when their guards are so efficient from three, and then their team went six of 10 from three.”
The loss to the Bulldogs (NET No. 48) counts as a Quad-2 result. Based on the current NCAA NET rankings, Arkansas (NET No. 23) is 2-5 in Q1 games that factor into its postseason resume (a win at Kentucky, a win over San Diego State in a neutral-site game, and losses to Baylor on the road, Missouri on the road, Alabama at home, Auburn on the road, and Creighton at a neutral site). The Hogs are now 4-2 in Q2 games (home wins over Texas A&M, Missouri, and Bradley, a neutral-site win over Oklahoma, a home loss to Mississippi State, and a road loss to Vanderbilt), and they are 11-1 in Q3/4 games.
Arkansas slipped to 35-33 all-time against Mississippi State.
Musselman dropped to 90-36 overall at Arkansas, which includes a 42-28 record against SEC teams and a 6-2 mark spanning the last two NCAA Tournaments that culminated in back-to-back Elite Eight runs and back-to-back final national Top 10 rankings.
Next up for the Hoop Hogs is a return to the road for an SEC game at Texas A&M on Wednesday in College Station, Texas (8 p.m. CT, ESPN2).
Musselman started the combination of Council, Black, Davis, Makhel Mitchell, and Makhi Mitchell for the fourth consecutive game.
Black hit a triple to put Arkansas ahead 5-0 out of the gates, but MSU struck back with a 7-0 run to take the lead.
Council’s free throw put the Hogs up 17-16, but MSU used an 11-2 run to lead by 8 points, 27-19.
Black scored twice followed by a Makhel Mitchell putback as the Hogs pulled within 27-25, but MSU had a 7-0 run to close the first half for a 34-25 Bulldogs lead at the break.
MSU shot 14-of-27 from the field (51.9%) in the first 20 minutes, including 4-of-7 from 3 (57.1%), and 2-of-3 at the free throw line (66.7%).
Arkansas was 9-of-26 shooting field goals (34.6%), including 2-of-11 from 3 (18.2%), and 5-of-8 at the line (62.5%).
MSU was plus-8 on the glass (20-12) and plus-6 in points-in-the-paint (16-10).