Hogs' focus shifts to key home date with Bulldogs

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Thursday, February 13, 2020
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman reacts after a call against Kentucky during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman reacts after a call against Kentucky during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

FAYETTEVILLE — One thing was evident in Arkansas coach Eric Musselman’s opening statement at his Thursday press conference previewing the Razorbacks’ noon game against Mississippi State on Saturday.

He is happy to be home.

Following a pair of subpar outings at Missouri and Tennessee earlier this week, focus has shifted to preparing for an important SEC showdown with the Bulldogs, which won the first teams’ meeting 77-70 in Starkville, Miss.

“Assuming we’re going to have a great crowd,” he said. “The last few home games certainly have been entertaining through 40 minutes, although we’d like a different outcome, for sure. Two teams both coming into the game hungry for a win.

“I think we have a great homecourt advantage. I think it’s one of the best in the country.”

The game has long been a sellout, and the return of former Arkansas commitment and Bulldogs standout forward Reggie Perry is sure to create a unique atmosphere in Bud Walton Arena.

Perry has recorded double-doubles in both career games against the Razorbacks — 12 points, 10 rebounds last season, and 26 points, 13 rebounds on Jan. 22. He shot a season-high 15 free throws against Arkansas three weeks ago.

Defending the 6-10, 250-pound forward without fouling is a priority, Musselman said. Perry drew nine fouls in the win, and five came in non-scoring situations.

“Look, he’s going to score on Saturday,” Musselman added. “Let everybody know right now, like, Reggie Perry is going to score, and he’s going to rebound. It’s a matter of how much can we get that down?”

While that is a key storyline entering Saturday, the matchup could also prove to be pivotal for both sides in terms of their respective NCAA Tournament hopes.

As of Wednesday, Arkansas remained in the tournament field as one of the last four teams in, according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi. Mississippi State found itself among Lunardi’s last four in last week, but it fell from a potential play-in game following a 1-1 week that included an 83-58 loss at rival Ole Miss on Tuesday.

The Bulldogs are No. 49 in the NCAA NET rankings, and Arkansas is slotted at 44.

The Razorbacks would also like to get the monkey off their back on their own floor. They are 2-3 in SEC home games and 1-3 in their last four overall, with the lone win coming against TCU in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

Dating back to last season, Arkansas is 7-7 in league play at home.

“As we've seen in this league, (playing at home) certainly doesn't mean that it's a win,” Musselman said. “We're playing against a team that I thought beat us last game at their place - a really talented team, a long team. But yeah, we'd certainly rather be at home than on the road.”

A bounce-back performance similar to showings preceding the loss at Missouri would be a positive for the Razorbacks, losers of six of seven SEC games since a 3-1 start. Musselman noted Arkansas didn’t play well at times against the Tigers, but had a chance to win in overtime.

At Tennessee, his group was flat. And when posed a question regarding the team’s effort over the last week, Musselman came armed with a league-wide note: 8 of 14 teams have suffered a double-digit loss since Feb. 8.

“I only bring that up because I do think with these games coming at you, travel can affect you,” he said. “It’s going to happen with 30 games. In the NBA, out of the 82 games, a lot of people thought that from 7-10 games your team just wasn’t going to have it.

"In college, I found great teams don’t have it one out of 30 nights. Teams that are pretty good usually have it 2-3 times, and then average teams have it four times. … We haven’t won a lot of games of late, but we sure competed. We haven’t played very good these last two games.”

In gearing up for Mississippi State, Musselman said he likely won't show players film of the previous game for the first time this season. There isn't time for that given the team was off Wednesday.

His message to the team between now and tipoff?

"A lot of times it's kind of spur of the moment," he noted. "We'll watch film ... and we'll get right into Mississippi State and focus on trying to play better against them."

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