By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State had a point to prove Saturday, and did so emphatically.
On senior day, the Bulldogs turned in their most dominant performance in SEC play, dispatching Arkansas 79-59 in a dunk-fest at Humphrey Coliseum.
The win earned State (21-10, 8-8 SEC) the No. 6 seed for next week’s SEC Tournament in New Orleans, where it will play Georgia in the first round. More important, they kept NCAA tournament hopes alive.
“We wanted to prove a point,” senior point guard Dee Bost said. “I feel like that’s what we did.”
MSU had lost five in a row before beating South Carolina in overtime on Wednesday, and prior to that win, forward Arnett Moultrie had some harsh words for his teammates and suggested there was a lack of unity.
Coach Rick Stansbury didn’t give that much credence after Saturday’s win, and he added that the media had “kind of wrote them off and didn’t think they could bounce back from where they were at.”
Moultrie led the effort against Arkansas, notching 20 points and 10 rebounds for his SEC-leading 18th double-double of the season. Bost had 16 points and seven assists, while fellow senior Brian Bryant scored 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting.
MSU shot 51.8 percent on the game while holding Arkansas (18-13, 6-10) to 41.1 percent.
State built up a 37-23 halftime lead, but it didn’t go to cruise control. The Bulldogs knew better after having blown too many big leads this season.
So they came out in the second half and extended it to a 57-35 lead with 10 minutes, 5 seconds left in the game. MSU, which has had four games go to overtime this season, went on to record its largest margin of victory in league play.
“Coach came in and said, ‘They were down 17 to Auburn and came back and won,’” Bost said. “So we knew we had to come out and keep playing. Lately we’ve started the second half sluggish, in previous games, and we didn’t want to do that.”
MSU had 10 dunks on the game, including seven in the first half. Moultrie, who shot 7 of 9, had five dunks. State outscored Arkansas in the paint, 42-22.
“They’re bigger than we are in terms of size, and the only way you’re going to negate that is you’ve got to put bodies on people, and we just didn’t do a good job,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said.
B.J. Young led the Razorbacks with 16 points off the bench, while Mardracus Wade scored 12 and Rashad Madden 10. Arkansas went the final 5:25 of the first half without a field goal.
MSU avenged a 98-88 loss to Arkansas earlier in the season, and the press defense Anderson employs was a non-factor. State only committed six turnovers, a dozen fewer than in the first meeting and tied for its lowest total of the season.
Arkansas entered the game leading the league in forced turnovers. Stansbury said the issue last time was getting “sped up” in the halfcourt after breaking the press.
“The first time, the guards played a little too fast,” Bost said. “We didn’t slow down and try to feed the bigs, and we play our best when we go inside-out.”