Despite trailing 18-5 at the 8:11 mark in the first half, the Razorback men’s basketball team (14-5, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) played with relentless effort that sparked the team’s comeback victory against Mississippi State (10-9, 4-6) in Fayetteville on Tuesday. From that point on, the Hogs outscored the Bulldogs 56-27 to finish the game with a 61-45 win.
More than halfway through the first stanza, Arkansas had made just one of its 17 shot attempts to begin the game. The home team had turned the ball over seven times and had just two points to show for its effort. Despite seemingly playing with a lid on the rim on the offensive end, the Hogs played stifling defense and kept the Bulldog lead from becoming insurmountable.
“Obviously, it is frustrating when you can’t make a shot and you turn the ball over,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said in a postgame press conference. “As bad as we were offensively, we were still right there.”
Arkansas closed the first half on a 23-4 run for a six-point lead at halftime and maintained the advantage for the duration of the second half. Musselman said his squad proved that his team can win “ugly” or “grimy” games.
The Hogs eased the burden on the offensive by applying intense pressure on defense. They forced a season-high 26 turnovers by the Bulldogs.
“We forced them to make a lot of turnovers and got some easy buckets in transition,” sophomore forward Connor Vanover said in a postgame presser. “It really just started with our defense leading to better offense,”
Vanover led the Hogs with 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
Musselman praised Vanover’s tenacity and described how instrumental the forward was to the victory.
“He’s got incredible stamina for somebody his size and I’m really proud of the way Connor played,” Musselman said. “He did not back down from anybody (and) I thought he played with incredible toughness.”
The coaching staff emphasized the importance of defensive rebounding after the team was outclassed on the glass in the previous game against Oklahoma State.
“Our goal was to hold (Mississippi State) under nine rebounds and they had eight,” Musselman said. “For the game, they shot 30%, so there was a boatload of misses and we corralled the majority of those.”
Vanover reiterated the importance that winning the rebounding battle had on the outcome of the game.
“We were plus eleven on the glass and I think that is incredible,” Vanover said.
Arkansas was scheduled to face Texas A&M (8-9, 2-6) on Saturday, Feb. 6 but the game has been postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Aggies’ program. Consequently, the Razorbacks will have an extended break before their next competition against Kentucky (5-11, 4-5) on Tuesday, Feb. 9 in Lexington, Kentucky, at 6 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN.