Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Arkansas' Marshawn Powell (33) watches the ball after a dunk during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi State in Fayetteville, Ark., Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. Arkansas won 96-70. (AP Photo/April L. Brown)
FAYETTEVILLE Mississippi State Coach Rick Ray said his No. 1 concern going into Wednesday night’s game at Arkansas was limiting turnovers against the Razorbacks’ pressure defense.
It turned out Ray had a lot to be concerned about.
The Razorbacks forced the Bulldogs into a season-high 29 turnovers and beat Mississippi State 96-70 before an announced crowd of 9,072 in Walton Arena.
Arkansas outscored the Bulldogs 42-8 in points off turnovers and 23-3 on fast break points.
The Bulldogs had not committed that many turnovers since they had 31 at Kentucky on Jan. 7, 1997.
“At times it felt like there were more than five of us out there,” said Razorbacks junior guard Fred Gulley, who had 5 points, 5 assists and 2 steals without a turnover. ‘”We really picked up the pace, and we played our style of basketball tonight. We sped them up and kind of had them play into our hands. We converted on a lot of steals, and we finished it.”
The Razorbacks (12-6, 3-2 SEC) also had a season-high 11 blocked shots and held the Bulldogs to 40.7 percent shooting (22 of 54) from the field.
“Our pressure defense created a lot of havoc,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “We got a lot of easy opportunities from our defense. ... Those turnovers we got right there led to dunks or layups because of the fatigue factor.”
The Bulldogs (7-10, 2-3) are down to nine players, including seven on scholarship, after losing three players to knee injuries.
“We saw them getting tired,” Arkansas junior forward Coty Clarke said. “We knew coming in they were only to play eight players. Coach always speaks about our depth, so we had to apply the pressure. We were going to pick them up and wear them out.”
Ray, in his first season as Mississippi State’s coach after being an assistant at Clemson, had praise for Arkansas but said having 29 turnovers was “just a ridiculous amount” and that too many came on unforced errors.
“I thought we didn’t make simple basketball plays,” Ray said. “I thought we tried to dribble attack way too much instead of trying to simply find the open man. I thought our defense when it was set wasn’t great, but a lot of those high-percentage shots were due the fact that we turned the basketball over.
“We simply can’t give up 96 points in a ballgame and expect to have any sort of success.”
Mississippi State freshman guards Craig Sword and Fred Thomas combined for 15 turnovers - nine by Sword and six by Thomas.
“We just weren’t calm enough,” said Thomas, who scored 17 points. “We just weren’t taking care of the ball well. We were kind of loose with it. We really forced our own turnovers. They really didn’t force our turnovers.”
The Bulldogs’ previous season high for turnovers had been 22 in an 89-62 loss to Marquette. They had 21 turnovers in four games.
“It is always concerning,” Ray said of the Bulldogs’ ball-handling. “We’re last in the SEC in assist-to-turnover margin and we’re like in the bottom 10 in the nation as far as assist-to-turnover margin.
“It’s a concern when we play anybody, but especially a team like Arkansas that pressures and presses.”
Junior forward Marshawn Powell led Arkansas (12-6, 3-2 SEC) with 17 points, hitting 6 of 12 field-goal attempts and 4 of 4 free throws. Sophomore guard BJ Young and Clarke scored 13 points each off the bench for the Razorbacks.
Young didn’t start for the first time in the 17 games he’s dressed out for this season. He missed the opener against Sam Houston State because of a disciplinary suspension, but Anderson said Young came off the bench Wednesday night because the coach wanted to give sophomore guard Ky Madden a start.
The Razorbacks had runs 14-1, 7-0, 9-0 and 16-0 during the game and led by as many as 30 points, 89-59, in the second half after being ahead 42-33 at halftime.
“It’s what the fans came to see,” Clarke said. “I just like to think we played together. This is what we’re supposed to do. This is how this team is built to move the ball and share the ball and play exciting basketball.”
The Razorbacks shot 49.3 percent from the field (33 of 67) and had 27 assists.
“It was a game of tempo and we established the tempo early,” Anderson said. “When dribble penetrating was taking place, our guys were rotating and being active, getting out to the shooters and rebounding the ball, and then we shared the ball on the other end.
“I thought our intensity remained throughout the game. The cylinders were clicking.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 01/24/2013