For the first time in the four tries he has played or coached against Arkansas, current Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland will not see his season end against the Razorbacks when he enters Bud Walton Arena on Saturday.
Playing for Weber State, Howland’s team lost to Arkansas twice in the NCAA Tournament - both on March 11 - with the Razorbacks winning 73-52 in 1978 and then 74-63 in 1979.
Howland had 16 combined points in those game with Arkansas’ Triplets Ron Brewer, Sidney Moncrief and Marvin Delph combining for 56 in the first game and Moncrief, Steve Schall, Scott Hastings and Alan Zahn for 61 in the 1979 game.
Former Weber State Dave Johnson told the Los Angeles Times that he remembered Howland boasting about calling Moncrief and telling him he would defend him so tightly that the Razorback star would end up with a groin pull.
Johnson said told the LA Times that he believed the story, but Arkansas won and Johnson noted there seems to be no record of Moncrief pulling a muscle.
"But it wouldn't surprise me," Johnson said. "If Ben says he's going to do something, he does it."
Howland later came to Arkansas as the head coach of Northern Arizona to play in the 1997 NIT Tournament and saw his team jump out to a 12-point lead only to see the Razorbacks roar back and down the Lumberjacks 101-75 on March 12.
“I remember the name Northern Arizona and that he was the coach,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. “If I am not mistaken…they were a team that shot the ball well, shot a lot of threes, shot the ball from the 3-point line and defensively they have always been solid. That’s about all I can recollect.”
Mississippi State (7-6, 0-1) will visit Arkansas (7-7, 1-1) Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in game that will be televised by SEC Network with former Razorback head coach John Pelphrey handling the analyst duties.
Howland is in his first year at Mississippi State after success at Northern Arizona, Pittsburgh and UCLA.
“He has had a tremendous career,” Anderson said. “I remember him being the coach there at Northern Arizona, then going to Pittsburgh, then UCLA and the rest is history. All you have to do is follow his career and he has done excellent wherever he has been.”
The Bulldogs do not have a signature win yet this season, but did push visiting Texas A&M to the brink before losing 61-60 on Wednesday night in Starkville.
The Aggies were playing without star Danuel House (personal issues) and hit just 3 of their first 22 shots and 30.6 percent overall front he field, but rallied to win the game.
“That is a tough loss after a great effort,” Howland said after the game. “We held a Top 20 team to 30 percent from the field. We gave up too many second shots. They had 13 more shots at the basket than we did. We just allowed too many offensive rebounds. Yet, we are right there. Our crowd was terrific. It really motivated and was enthusiastic. I am disappointed for them.”
Mississippi State has a starting five featuring 6-9, 260-pound senior forward Gavin Ware (17.5, 8.2), a three-guard lineup featuring McDonald’s All-American guard Malik Newman (13.3), Craig Sword (11.7) and former Little Rock Parkview star I.J. Ready (10.3) and 6-7 senior forward Travis Daniels (8.5).
“I think it injected a lot of interest in that program, even with their kids,” Anderson said. “They have a lot of kids returning. There is a transition and that’s something I don’t think a lot of people realize.
“You have a new coach coming in and he didn’t recruit all these guys, he did recruit Malik, but it takes time and I just think a guy coming in with the record he has and where he has been is a plus for our league.”
Ready will be playing against his former high school backcourt partner and Arkansas sophomore guard Anton Beard (8.0), who helped the Razorbacks sweep a pair of games from Mississippi State last season.
“I.J.'s been good for us,” Howland said. “He had one of his best games right before Christmas against Northern Colorado where he had 11 assists and zero turnovers and really did a good job distributing the ball. That's a key for us.
“When he's playing like that as a point guard and getting everybody involved, it really, really helps our team. And he's a good leader. He's doing a good job of talking…I think he's having a really solid campaign thus far.”
Arkansas is coming off one of its best efforts of the season as the Razorbacks downed visiting Vanderbilt 90-85 in overtime on Tuesday night.
Anthlon Bell had 26 points and Moses Kingsley 25 for Arkansas in the win.
The Commodores tied the game at the regulation buzzer on a dunk and took a three-point lead early in overtime, but the Razorbacks outscored them 13-5 the rest of the way.
“I just told the guys that we had been here before and they made a play, now we have five more minutes extra of playing some more basketball,” Anderson said of his huddle before overtime. “We do this every day so there was no panic in our guys.
“They just wanted to go out and really finish the game. The game is not over until it says 0:00. That is what we teach. They made a play. Now let’s go show what we are made of.
“I thought we really went out and got dialed in defensively. It just started off with defense. I really felt fatigue became a factor. The shots they were making earlier, they weren’t making later in the game.”
After four closes losses earlier this season, Arkansas finally snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat.
“Without a doubt,” Anderson said. “It was like we’ve been there, done that before so let’s take it to another phase and that is finish it. It’s about making plays. If you look at what took place in the game, there were multiple plays defensively as well as offensively.
“…You can draw it up anyway you want to, but at the end of the day, guys have to make plays out on the floor. From that standpoint, it showed them who are those guys that are going to make plays. I think we are learning a lot about our basketball team and learning against a good Vanderbilt team.”
Anthlon Bell celebrates during Arkansas' 61-41 win over Mississippi State last season at Bud Walton Arena.