By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – For the second consecutive game, Mississippi State’s shooters were inexplicably woeful, and Courtney Fortson made the Bulldogs pay dearly in a 67-62 Arkansas win Thursday night.
Before a sparse crowd of 4,113 – blame the icy weather – the electric Arkansas point guard scored 33 of his career-high 35 points after halftime to lead a furious rally that didn’t come up short this time.
Two weeks earlier, MSU (15-5, 3-2 SEC) nearly lost a 19-point lead in an 82-80 win over the Razorbacks (9-11, 2-3). This time, an 11-point second-half lead disappeared over the final 10 minutes as Fortson suddenly became unstoppable.
“Basically it turned into a Fortson game. That’s basically what it was,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “We kept him out of the lane the first half, and we absolutely couldn’t keep him out the second half.”
The Bulldogs shot a season-low 31.3 percent from the floor and made just 5 of 26 (19.2 percent) from 3-point range. In Saturday’s 62-57 loss at Alabama, MSU shot 31.7 percent the field and was 2 of 18 (11.1 percent) from deep.
“I don’t have no explanation for none of the shots, like airballs, and just ain’t hitting nothing,” said Ravern Johnson, who led MSU with 19 points but hit just 1 of 8 from 3-point range. “All of us are in a slump right now.”
A Fortson layup brought Arkansas within 51-50 with 6 minutes, 20 seconds to go, and his free throw at the 2:57 mark gave the Razorbacks their first lead since 5-4, at 58-57.
Fortson then hit a driving layup and had a putback to push the lead to 63-59 with 59 seconds left.
“It was just a lot of voices on our sidelined saying ‘They can’t stop you,’ ” Fortson said.
Johnson hit his first 3-pointer on the night with 15.4 seconds left to make it 65-62, but State failed to foul anyone until 1.9 seconds to go.
“I didn’t think we handled it very well coming down the stretch,” Stansbury said. “I thought we didn’t play with the poise you’ve got to play with when you’re on the road.”
After shooting 24 percent from the field in the first half, the Hogs hit 48 percent in the second. Fortson finished 9 of 17 from the field and 14 of 18 from the free throw line, and his 33 second-half points matched MSU’s collective output.
“They ball-screened an awful lot tonight, like they always do,” said MSU point guard Dee Bost, “but the only thing we didn’t do, we should’ve made an adjustment, we should’ve at least went zone or made an adjustment, but that’s just part of the game.”
Barry Stewart, who fouled out with 2:16 left, finished with 11 points for MSU, and he became the school’s all-time leader in minutes played. Kodi Augustus had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Jarvis Varnado had nine points and 14 boards to help State win the rebounding battle, 44-37.
MSU was just 1 of 14 in the first half from 3-point range and 10 of 40 overall, and Varnado and Stewart were both in foul trouble. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Arkansas was just as bad, thus the 29-21 MSU halftime lead.
It also helped that State went 8 of 10 at the line in the first half. It finished the game 15 of 18.