By Kevin McPherson
FAYETTEVILLE — It’s usually the Arkansas Razorbacks who force turnovers in bulk to generate big runs inside Bud Walton Arena, but Mississippi State came in Saturday and re-wrote the script by forcing 20 turnovers and using a 23-3 run to start the second half to carve out a decisive 77-67 road win.
Senior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon scored 22 points to go with 6 steals, and with his younger brother Nick Weatherspoon out due to an indefinite suspension, junior guard Tyson Carter stepped up to score 18 points in a starting role for the Bulldogs.
Arkansas (14-11, 5-7 SEC) has lost 3 consecutive games, and the Hogs dropped their fifth home game of 2018-19 — the most in a season in Mike Anderson’s eighth campaign as head coach at Arkansas.
Mississippi State (18-7, 6-6 SEC) held Arkansas without a field goal in the first 8:27 of the second half. The Bulldogs — they’ve won two games in a row, and they’ve won two consecutive road games — held the Razorbacks to 8-of-28 field goals (28.6%) including 1-of-10 from 3 while forcing 10 turnovers in the second half, erasing an 8-point deficit to win going away.
The Hogs have lost their last four games against the Bulldogs, including the last two in BWA. Arkansas last defeated Mississippi State in January 2016, an 82-68 victory at home.
“Well congratulations to Mississippi State,” Anderson said. “I was kind of disappointed from the standpoint that we had been playing much better at home and as you could see, it was a tale of two halves. I don’t know if we just ran out of steam. But the first half against a very good Mississippi State team we shot the ball well. We executed. We rebounded the basketball. We shared it. The only thing we didn’t do a good job of was taking care of the basketball. Those turnovers, you look at the stats when you get beat and you look at the turnovers. They scored 27 points off our turnovers. That’s what we normally do to people. So we had 20 turnovers.
“They are a good defensive team but I thought we helped them in that category. So that’s 14 steals they turn into 27 points. I think we scored 22 off of theirs. Second-chance points: I think they scored five more points than we did. And if you look at that, there’s the ballgame. But I thought it was the tale of two halves and their size going down the stretch made a big difference in the game. They got some offensive rebounds and stuck them in.”
Sophomore wing Mason Jones tied his career high with 30 points (9-of-18 field goals, including 5-of-11 from 3, plus 7-of-9 free throws) to go with 2 rebounds and 2 assists. Sophomore point guard Jalen Harris chipped in 8 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal in a team-high 35 minutes.
“This locker room is definitely going to be able to recover,” Jones said after the game. “We’ve been on a losing streak before, but to be on a losing streak this late in the year, it’s kind of hard, but our guys are fighters. We’re going to wake up and live another day and prepare our bodies and get ready for Wednesday against Auburn.
“We know we’re still chasing for something, so as long as we keep a positive attitude we’re going to be good.”
Sophomore center Daniel Gafford and freshman guard Isaiah Joe — Arkansas’s two leading scorers coming in — combined for only 13 points on 4-of-13 field goals.
The Hogs led 40-36 when Gafford picked up his second and third fouls that sent him to the bench at 18:08, and the Bulldogs took advantage with a 12-1 run for a 48-41 lead with Gafford out of the game. But even after his return, the Bulldogs scored seven consecutive points to stretch their lead to 55-41.
In all, it was a 23-3 Bulldogs run to start the second half as Arkansas missed its first 14 shots in the final 20 minutes while also fumbling the ball away four times during the ‘Dogs’ run.
With Arkansas trailing 61-45, Jones scored six straight points to ignite an 8-1 Hogs’ mini run to pull within 62-53 with 5:53 remaining. The deficit was at 9 again, 66-57, after a Harris jumper at 3:16, but Quinndary Weatherspoon splashed a 3-pointer at 2:41 to push the ‘Dogs lead out to 69-57 and effectively ice the win.
“That was just a magnificent, awesome win for our team and our players,” said Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland. “Really happy for them, to be able to get a win against a very tough opponent. I thought our defense obviously in the second half was the key. The way we came out.”
Mississippi State freshman forward Reggie Perry, who was committed to Arkansas for close to a calendar year (from August 2016 till June 2017), started and had a double-double against the Hogs — 12 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals in 32 minutes. Freshman wing Robert Woodard II had 10 points and 4 rebounds off the bench for the Bulldogs.
Arkansas shot the ball well and played some timely stingy defense in the first half to grab a 6-point lead at the break, 38-32.
Woodard II scored a lay-up in transition to give the Bulldogs’ their biggest first-half lead, 24-21, at the 5:50 mark, but the Hogs would close on an 18-7 run while holding MSU without a field goal in the final 3:55.
Jones led Arkansas with 12 points (4-of-6 from 3) in the opening 20 minutes, while forwards Adrio Bailey and Reggie Chaney combined for 11 points.
Next up for the Hogs is a road game next week against Auburn (7:30 p.m. CT, Wednesday, Feb. 20, SEC Network) followed by a return home to host Texas A&M (7:30 p.m. CT, Saturday, Feb. 23, SEC Network).