BULLDOGS WORKING WAY TO TOP OF WEST
By Gene Phelps
STARKVILLE Mississippi State continued its climb back into contention in the Southeastern Conference Western Division race Tuesday with its 78-63 victory over Arkansas.
The Bulldogs, who have now won four consecutive conference games, upped their record to 15-5 overall and to 7-4 in the West with the nationally televised ESPN and Dick Vitale, too win over the division-leading Razorbacks before a crowd of 7,584 at MSU’s Humphrey Coliseum.
“This is a big win for us,” said State forward Dontae’ Jones, who scored 14 points. “It puts us back in the hunt for the SEC Western Division title. This is three straight wins over quality opponents. We want to get back to the Big Dance.”
Mississippi State started its streak with a win over Tennessee and followed it up with wins over No. 25 Georgia and No. 22 Auburn.
Western Division-leading Arkansas, which saw its five-game win streak snapped, dropped to 14-7 overall and to 6-3 in conference play.
Guards Darryl Wilson and Marcus Bullard paced the Bulldogs, scoring 26 and 24 points respectively. Bullard scored 17 of his points in the second half and Wilson pumped in 16.
“There’s no question they shot the ball extremely well,” Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson said. “(Darryl) Wilson really had a great ballgame. But you put their two guards together, I think they made 18 field goals, it makes it easy.”
Bullard and Wilson combined to connect on 18-of-24 from the field and on 7-of-12 from 3-point range. Bullard was a blistering 9-of-11 on field goal attempts.
State, which got all of its scoring from its five starters, shot a whopping 57.4 percent from the field.
Arkansas, which was led by Jesse Pate with 14 and Sunday Adebayo with 13, led 38-36 early in the second half, but a Bullard jumper tied the score and Wilson’s follow-up 3-pointer put State ahead for keeps.
State built its lead to 11 points, 65-54, on a Bullard 3-pointer with 5:14 remaining. This time the Bulldogs didn’t lose their lead as they have in previous games.
“The big difference was that when we got the lead we went ahead and finished them,” said forward Russell Walters, who contributed six points and a team-high nine rebounds. “That’s something we’ve been working on in practice, putting people away.”
The Bulldogs led 36-33 at halftime thanks to a 12-0 run late in the first half.
Down 22-20 with 9 minutes, 17 seconds left in the half following a 3-pointer by Razorback guard Marlon Towns, the Bulldogs opened their spurt with a free throw by Jones and closed it on a fade-away 5-footer by Jones at the 5:32 mark.
Jones’ basket gave the Bulldogs a 32-22 advantage, but Arkansas roared back with an 11-2 run to trim State’s lead to 34-33. A pair of free throws by Jones gave State its 3-point halftime lead.
“We went into the game thinking the keys were to control (Kareem) Reid and to keep them off the offensive boards,” State coach Richard Williams said. “I think our halfcourt defense and our ability to make shots were keys.”
The Razorbacks’ Reid was 2-of-9 and scored five points.