Getting Over The Hump

Arkansas may have won its last road game, but the fact that the Razorbacks (14-8, 4-5) dropped two home contests last week has put added importance on their game Wednesday night at Humphrey Coliseum against Mississippi State (12-10, 4-4), who has led the SEC in turmoil this season.

No matter how Wednesday night's Arkansas game at Mississippi State turns out, none of the Razorbacks and Bulldogs are likely to tweet about it afterwards.

Tweets have been an issue at both schools in the past 16 months. Recent ones by senior Ravern Johnson – the home team's leading scorer – led to him being indefinitely suspended.

Throw in a fight in the stands between teammates, some previous twitter activity, suspensions and transfers and Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury has dealt with far too much off-the court activity.

"It's been interesting and there have been come challenging moments, but I guess that is part of it sometimes," Stansbury said. "We've had to deal with it, had some unusual situations, but what it is, is what it is. Nobody is going to cancel no games so we have got to keep playing."

Stansbury actually decided to ban his team from tweeting after Johnson criticized his coach, his teammates and the fans after a loss to Alabama.

After being suspended, Johnson then went AWOL for a few days and didn't go to class.

"After Thursday and Friday, he had no conversations with anybody," Stansbury said, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. "He just disappeared."

The Bulldogs (12-10, 4-4) will be hosting the Razorbacks (14-10, 4-5) in a 7 p.m. game with the winner having sole possession of second place in the SEC West behind division and overall leader Alabama (15-7, 7-1).

"It is a very challenging start to our week being on the road at Mississippi State," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "Obviously Coach Stansbury has done a tremendous job with that program, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He's been there a long time and has done it very, very well."

Arkansas has lost 10 straight games at Humphrey Coliseum spanning coaches Nolan Richardson, Stan Heath and now Pelphrey, whose team has lost three of those including an 82-80 heartbreaker there last season.

"That has zero to do with the 11th try," Stansbury said. "Any time you can go to Vandy and win, they've done something nobody else has done. So that tells you what they're capable of. And they're the only team (in the SEC) that's beaten Alabama."

Arkansas did indeed have momentum with an 89-78 win over Vanderbilt, but promptly came home and lost home games to Georgia and Ole Miss.

"We had a tough week," Pelphrey said. "The week before we had a great week. A better bounce of the ball here or there and it could've been different last week as well. We certainly need to play better, get better at some things and we Will Do that this week."

Arkansas junior guard Rotnei Clarke, who has been on teams that went 3-13 in SEC play in the second half of league play the last two seasons, doesn't believe a third straight collapse will happen this campaign.

"It's definitely a different team," Clarke said. "We have a lot of new guys. We have a lot of high-quality character guys. I think we're going to be able to come back from these losses, frustration, or whatever you want to call it and be ready and be prepared and work hard and unite and finish strong."

Clarke added in the fact that the Razorbacks are working hard despite what some media and fans have speculated.

"A lot of what you guys don't see is guys come in and work hard every single day," Clarke said. "Just flying around. We work so hard daily. No one is slacking off. We're all working hard together. That's why I'm not really worried about the ending of the season."

The Razorbacks' win at Vanderbilt got the attention of Stansbury, whose team lost a home game to the Commodores two days earlier.

"Like always, there are no easy games," Stansbury said. "Arkansas has proven they are a quality basketball team by going to Vanderbilt and winning and they've had their moments where they have played as well as anybody in this league. So we know like all games it won't be easy."

Much like Arkansas has had in the last two years, Mississippi State has had trouble getting its complete team on the floor at one time.

Point guard Dee Bost and center Renaldo Sidney were both suspended by the NCAA – one for not taking his name out of the NBA draft in time and academic issues and the other for extra benefits received before he arrived in Starkville.

Bost (17.1) has played the past eight games, the 6-10, 270-pound Sidney (13.6, 6.5) has been back for the last 10.

"I think our biggest challenge was just trying to work those guys back in when they came back in January and it was kind of like starting over again," Stansbury said. "That is still where we are at, trying to make progress every game now."

Bost, who is battling an injury, is the catalyst for the Bulldogs, while Kodi Augustus (12.0, 7.5), Riley Benock (7.1) and Jalen Steel (5.1) will round out the starting five.

The Mississippi State point guard has had several standout performances against Arkansas.

"I think you have to give him a lot of attention because the ball is in his hands a tremendous amount," Pelphrey said. "Like any good point guard, he is resilient, he is tough, he is not afraid to take big shots, he's not afraid to make big shots, but he is also a good distributor of the basketball. He is the catalyst that makes them go."

Sidney and former Bulldog Elgin Bailey fought in the stands during the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic tournament –resulting in suspension for both.

Sidney – who got in trouble with tweets earlier this season – joined in on the recent tweeting as well, but was not suspended this time.

"I can't help what they think and I don't make decisions on what other people think," Stansbury said. "I am going to make decisions on what I think. That's all that matters."

He has an inside force to go to in Sidney.

"I don't know if anybody can physically stop that young man," Pelphrey said. "He is a tremendous, tremendous talent. You try to do things like limit his touches or maybe getting him a little bit farther away from the basket than he is used to because he is such a physical presence."

In its last four games, the Bulldogs have lost to visiting Vanderbilt, grabbed a home win over Florida, got drilled at Alabama and then edged LSU 58-57 in Baton Rouge on Saturday.

"We've been up and down," Stansbury said. "I thought we came off two pretty good games at home against Vanderbilt, which we did not win, but I thought our kids really played hard and were in a position to win. Then we beat Florida, which I thought was a big win for us.

"We didn't play at Alabama at all and then Saturday we went on the road and hey, anytime you can find a way to scratch one out, that's big," Stansbury added.

Pelphrey is hoping his team shows up focused and ready to play.

"We're always a work in progress," Pelphrey said. "It's a long year and there's probably going to be points in time you play better in some areas than you do in others. ... When we're on edge and we're alert, we're in that mode, we're capable of playing with anybody in our league. When we're not completely on edge as a group, now we're vulnerable."

John Pelphrey voices his displeasure at a call.

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