By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – In a two-man shootout, Mississippi State likes its chances with Ravern Johnson.
The senior guard continued his late-season revival on Wednesday, pouring in 25 points in MSU’s 88-78 win over Arkansas in front of 10,253 at Bud Walton Arena.
The win clinched second place in the SEC Western Division, and the Bulldogs (16-13, 8-7 SEC) will get a first-round bye in next week’s SEC Tournament.
Johnson out-gunned Arkansas guard Rotnei Clarke, who finally had a good game against State with 24 points, but the former had a better supporting cast, especially in the second half.
Johnson made 5 of 8 from 3-point range, and over his last five games he’s hit 19 of 30, or 63.3 percent, from behind the arc. This has come on the heels of his two-game suspension last month for “inappropriate tweets” following a loss to Alabama.
Johnson only returned to the starting lineup against Tennessee on Saturday because Jalen Steele was lost to a knee injury.
“I knew I made a mistake,” Johnson said, “and when I got back with the team, I told them it wasn’t going to be me forcing those shots, just playing within our system, just trying to do whatever I can to help the team win.”
Clarke, who coming in had averaged 8.0 points in three games against MSU, made 7 of 15 overall and 4 of 9 from deep. Marshawn Powell had 14 points and 13 boards for Arkansas.
While Johnson’s hot hand kept MSU hanging around for the first 32 minutes, several teammates got in on a game-turning 13-3 run.
It was 60-60 when Kodi Augustus drained a 3-pointer, then Johnson added one, and four other Bulldogs scored during the spurt, which gave MSU a 73-63 lead with 4 minutes, 6 seconds left.
Arkansas (18-11, 7-8) got no closer than six points, and that was in the waning seconds.
“The team showed a little grit, things you like to see this time of year,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said.
Augustus had a big game, too, scoring 23 on 7-of-11 shooting, and he hit all eight of his free-throw attempts. Renardo Sidney had 14 points and seven rebounds.
MSU made a concerted effort in the second half to go inside, and it paid off big-time. Also dooming the Razorbacks in the second half was turnovers: After committing just two before halftime, they gave it away 10 times in the final 20 minutes.
MSU committed just one second-half turnover and scored 24 points off the Hogs’ miscues.
“Whatever it was, silly mistakes, or not being focused, smart with the ball, that’s too many turnovers in a half, especially the second half,” Clarke said.
MSU had an early 20-14 lead before Arkansas went on a 12-4 spurt, but Johnson had answers, knocking down a jumper to tie it at 26-26 and draining a 3-pointer to tie it at 29-29.
Arkansas ended with a flourish, though, with 3-pointers from Clarke and Marcus Britt, and a late bucket by Delvon Johnson to give the Razorbacks a 39-35 halftime lead.
Johnson was 5 of 9 from the floor in the first half, including 3 of 6 from behind the arc.
Arkansas pulled out to a 45-37 lead early in the second half, but Johnson brought the Bulldogs back again with a jumper and 3-ball to tie it at 45-45. It was nip and tuck until State went on its big run.
MSU shot 49.2 percent from the floor and made 9 of 22 from 3-point range. It also hit 21 of 26 free throws; Arkansas only attempted 20, making 15.
The 88 points was the most MSU has ever scored in Fayetteville, and now it’s riding back-to-back road wins heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale, at home, against South Carolina.