Zoned Out

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' postseason destination is now Atlanta or bust.

The Razorbacks could manage only two baskets in the final 8:37 and let a second-half lead and their NCAA Tournament chances slip away in a 57-55 loss to Mississippi State on Tuesday before 16,347 in Bud Walton Arena.

Arkansas (18-10, 6-9 Southeastern Conference) used a 19-4 run to overcome a 33-24 halftime deficit but still can't score consistently -- if at all -- against a 2-3 zone.

Mississippi State (21-8, 9-6) got another double-double from All-American Lawrence Roberts' 13 points and 10 rebounds, outrebounded Arkansas 47-31 and had unlikely heroes in center Wesley Morgan and point guard Gary Ervin to pull off the win.

The Razorbacks, who fell to 0-3 in home finales under coach Stan Heath and close their season at Auburn this Saturday, are now assured of a losing record in the SEC and will play in the NIT unless they win the conference tournament in Atlanta March 10-13.

"We wanted badly to at least get to 8-8," Heath said. "I know there's going to be some guys that are a little down and dejected.

"But I know these guys. They're very hungry. They have a lot of pride. We've got a day off (today) and getting away will be good for them."

Arkansas scored its first basket in six minutes when Jonathon  Modica sank a 3-pointer to cut Mississippi State's lead to 56-55 with 37.5 seconds remaining.

Ervin -- who made his only basket of the game on a 3-pointer that hit the front rim and rolled up and in to make it 56-52 with 1:09 remaining -- chased down his own missed free throw with 17.1 to play and made one of two from the foul line to give the Bulldogs a two-point lead.

Ronnie Brewer's game-tying attempt from just beneath the foul line was contested by Lawrence Roberts and drew only air before falling into Shane Power's hands as time expired.

It was the fourth game this season Arkansas has lost with a chance to win at the buzzer.

The Razorbacks won close games against Ole Miss, LSU and Tennessee with defensive stands in the final seconds but have lost four when they've needed a score to tie or win against Alabama, Kentucky, LSU and now Mississippi State.

"We're frustrated because it's a close one we should have won at home," said Brewer, who scored all 11 of his points in the second half and stood bent over after the final buzzer for what seemed an eternity as if the weight of another disappointing ending was finally too much to bear.

"We could have controlled our own destiny getting to the tournament but we let it slip through our fingers. We still got another game and the SEC Tournament, so we haven't given up yet."

Arkansas went 1 of 12 in the final 7:49 of the first half against the 2-3 zone and 2 of 14 against it in the last 8:37 of the second after building a lead as large as 43-37 with 13:20 to play and 50-46 before its final, fateful drought.

"People were just passing the ball around," Brewer said. "We couldn't get it inside because they were defending real well in the high post and the short corner. We weren't popping out far enough and couldn't get any penetration because they were packing it in the zone."

Freshman center Darian Townes led Arkansas with 13 points and 6 rebounds but shot just 6 of 15 from the field. Junior Eric  Ferguson added 10 points and 6 assists.

Mississippi State senior Winsome Frazier scored 11 in his fifth game back from a broken foot on 4 of 12 attempts, mirroring the off shooting nights by both teams.

The Bulldogs shot 21 of 60 (35 percent) and Arkansas was 20 of 59 (33.9), making the rebounding disparity even more decisive.

"That first shot (against a zone) goes in about 33 percent of the time," said Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury. "That second shot goes in about 80 percent of the time. That's the first thing that jumps out at you.

"We played a lot of zone and we outrebounded them by 16. That's a huge stat right there."

Heath said the biggest difference between Mississippi State and Tennessee (a 70-68 win for Arkansas on Saturday) was the Hogs' shooting.

Arkansas made 47 percent of its 3-pointers against the Vols but just 26 percent (5 of 19) against the Bulldogs.

The Razorbacks also missed 15 shots from eight feet or closer in the first half while going 0 of 8 from outside.

"If you hold Mississippi State to 35 percent and Lawrence Roberts to (13) points, you're going to expect to win," Heath said. "Unfortunately, the rebounding and not being able to convert offensively was disappointing, especially coming off a game we played against zone and shot a good percentage."

Arkansas made its first six shots of the second half on a banked jumper from Brewer, a 3-pointer and a reverse layup from Ferguson and a 3 by Brewer to tie the score at 34.

The Bulldogs took the lead right back on an Ontario Harper basket, but Townes hit a reverse and Olu Famutimi made a steal and slam to put Arkansas back on top 38-36. It was the only basket Famutimi made all night, going 1 of 7 with 4 points and 4 rebounds.

Roberts, who made 2 of 3 attempts from outside, tied the game at 52 with a three-point play with 4:13 to play and gave Mississippi State the lead back with one of two free throws a minute later.

Meanwhile, Arkansas had four straight awful possessions against the zone with two hurried attempts as the shot clock wound down, a shot clock violation with 2:29 to play and a turnover by Modica.

"We knew we were going to go to it when we came out of the locker room," Stansbury said. "We survived the first three and a half, four minutes, but we were playing well in our man.

"But I wanted to change. It was very effective for us the first half."

And in the second.

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