FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Mississippi State University men’s basketball coach Rick Stansbury said all week his team had enough guards to handle the University of Arkansas’ full-court pressure defense and still guard them defensively.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson called Stansbury’s bluff on that declaration and took home a 98-88 victory Saturday night.
“I thought our guys did a good job getting the ball out of (MSU senior point guard Dee Bost’s) hands and making other guys make decisions,” Anderson said. “We want to be disruptive, and we did a great job of taking the ball out of Dee Bost’s hands.”
No. 15 MSU (13-3, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) compounded errors by turning the basketball over against Arkansas’ trapping defense. The Bulldogs committed 18 turnovers, 11 in the first half. Arkansas scored 23 points off those mistakes.
The first three times MSU inbounded the ball and got it across half-court, 6-foot-10 power forward Arnett Moultrie dribbled the ball unguarded across the time line. When Stansbury decided to try and steal a breather for Bost, the only player for a long while MSU could trust to handle the offense, Arkansas (12-3, 1-0) went on a 8-0 run to take a lead it never relinquished.
“We just didn’t do a good job handling their pressure and getting it inside,” Stansbury said. “It’s the back end (of the press) that speeds you up. You just can’t simulate that at all.”
The 98 points Arkansas scored tied the most points MSU has surrendered under Stansbury. The last time MSU gave up that many points was in 98-49 loss at Alabama on Jan. 18, 2005.
“We just couldn’t contain that dribble,” Stansbury said. “Every way they could, they found a way to beat us off that bounce.”
Arkansas built a 39-29 lead with less than four minutes to go in the first half that allowed the announced attendance of 12,200 in to get on its feet.
The 10-point deficit was the largest the Bulldogs faced, and it would’ve been a lot more if not for a late rally by freshman guard Rodney Hood. The former Gatorade Player of the Year in Mississippi poured in 11 of his 17 points in the first half and was the only MSU player in double digits at intermission.
Bost, who came into the game averaging 16.2 points per game against Arkansas in his career, got to the basket while matched up off screens on senior center Michael Sanchez, but he couldn’t finish at the rim. MSU’s Wooden Award nominee scored most of his team-high 21 points from the free-throw line.
Despite six turnovers, Bost wasn’t the issue as much as the lack of help from the perimeter rotation. Hood, Jalen Steele, Brian Bryant, and DeVille Smith combined for six turnovers.
“That was fun basketball, so if anybody asks, ‘Is that the kind of basketball I envision us playing?’ ” Anderson asked hypothetically. “Yes.”
Arkansas got a lift from its guard duo of junior Julysses Nobles and freshman BJ Young, who combined for 48 points. Nobles, a graduate of Jackson Callaway High School, was left open and nailed 4 of 7 from beyond the 3-point arc. He entered the game shooting 28.8 percent from 3-point range, and his 24 points was a career high.
“He got hot at the right time,” Bost said. “It doesn’t matter if he had been shooting well or not.”
Young, the player Nobles replaced in the starting lineup, continually took MSU’s rotation of guard Stansbury placed on him to the basket. When defenders finally gave the St. Louis native two steps of cushion, he drained 2-for-4 3-pointers.
“This is a personal game for me with my dad being from Starkville, and what we were able to do is show our fans what we’d been working on all summer and what we could do,” Young said. “My dad wanted me to go to Mississippi State and my mom wanted me to go to Arkansas. All of my family were in the arena tonight.”
Saturday represented only the fourth SEC opener in 21 years MSU has lost, but it was the second in a row after it lost its first game in the league last year, 75-57 in Starkville.
MSU will play host to the University of Tennessee on Thursday at Humphrey Coliseum.