FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas still has a long way to go to reach the “Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball” style coach Mike Anderson envisions on a nightly basis.
But the Razorbacks found an opponent that helped them look close to it Wednesday.
Arkansas leaned on its obvious advantages — depth, athleticism and defense — to overwhelm an undermanned Mississippi State team during a 96-70 win in front of an announced crowd of 9,072 in Bud Walton Arena on Wednesday night.
Forward Marshawn Powell led the way with 17 points, while BJ Young chipped in 13 coming off the bench for the first time this season. But Wednesday’s win was highlighted by a group effort from the Hogs (12-6, 3-2 in Southeastern Conference).
Arkansas forced the Bulldogs (7-10, 2-3 in SEC) into a season-high 29 turnovers, recorded a season-best 11 blocked shots, and turned the hustle plays into plenty of transition layups and breakaway dunks in the blowout win.
“This is what we’re supposed to do,” Arkansas forward Coty Clarke said. “This is how this team is built, to move the ball and share the ball and play exciting basketball. That’s what you love to see. We just did our job (Wednesday).”
It helped Arkansas improve to 3-0 at home in SEC games and notch its third-highest point production of the season. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, allowed a season-high in points en route to their third straight loss in conference play.
“We simply can’t give up 96 points in a ballgame and expect to have any sort of success,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said.
Arkansas’ edge was evident from the opening tip Wednesday. Anderson made a lineup change, putting guard Ky Madden on the court in place of Young. Removing Young from the starting group for the first time seemed to pay off.
The starting five of Madden, Marshawn Powell, Hunter Mickelson, Rickey Scott and Fred Gulley started fast against the Bulldogs, using crisp ball movement to score a handful of easy buckets in the halfcourt offense. Powell was the focal point once again, scoring eight points early to help the Razorbacks grab a 14-3 lead.
“We established the tempo early,” Anderson said. “They really set the tone.
“Offensively they were unselfish. Defensively they were unselfish. I thought that was the big difference. It was good to see it kind of come together for our guys.”
Anderson then went to his bench, pulling the starters at the 14:47 mark. Young was part of the second wave, but the group struggled. Mississippi State went on a 10-2 run to cut Arkansas’ lead to three points before Arkansas’ starters returned.
The Razorbacks eventually regained control and built as much as a 14-point lead thanks to seven straight points from Young late in the half. The Bulldogs scored the final five points, but Arkansas still took a 42-33 lead into the locker room.
It was all Arkansas needed against a Mississippi State team that only brought nine players to Bud Walton Arena. The Razorbacks dominated after the break, collecting layups and dunks to outscore Mississippi State by 17 points in the half.
“At times it felt like there were more than five of us out there,” Gulley said.
“This is something we practice every day. If you’re not ready for what we’re going to bring at you, there’s no way your conditioning is going to allow you to hang around.”
Most of the dominance came thanks to turnovers. Mississippi State entered the game committing an SEC-high 17.2 turnovers a game and Ray warned his team that ball protection would be vital against the swarming Razorbacks.
It didn’t help Wednesday. Freshmen Craig Sward (9 turnovers) and Fred Thomas (6 turnovers) had the most trouble. Ray called the 29 turnovers a “ridiculous” amount.
“Arkansas does a great job pressing, but I thought most of our turnovers were the result of us - unforced turnovers — and not due to the press,” Ray said. “That’s the thing that’s so concerning. I just thought we didn’t make simple basketball plays.
The 29 turnovers also was a season-high forced by Arkansas. An even bigger statistic: The Razorbacks outscored Mississippi State 42-8 off the mistakes en route to their eighth-largest margin of victory in an SEC game.
Anderson is hoping his team can build off the success Saturday, when it goes back on the road to play at South Carolina.
“That’s what I envision us playing,” Anderson said. “The key now is to take that same mindset on the road with toughness as well. I think we’re capable. We’ve got a good basketball team. We’ve just to get clicking on the cylinders. The cylinders were happening (Wednesday). We clicked on a lot more cylinders than we have. …
“We’re going in the right direction. Hopefully we’ll see more of it.”