Panic was absent from the Arkansas Razorbacks' locker room Saturday in Humphrey Coliseum, even as the Hogs faced a 13-point halftime deficit.
All of the Razorbacks sat quietly, intently listening to the one voice who demanded a second-half turnaround.
"We needed to compete a little better," first-year Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. "By no means was there a lack of effort. But we needed more. We needed a little better edge, a little better fire."
His Razorbacks responded, ripping off a 26-9 spurt to start the second half. And even though Mississippi State rallied for an 80-74 victory, its eighth straight over Arkansas in Starkville, the Hogs departed The Hump with more positive thoughts than negative.
They silenced 8,793 rabid Bulldog fans with their run that resulted in a four-point lead. They held Mississippi State (17-7, 8-2) to 35 percent shooting from the field in the second half. And they exhibited the kind of fight and heart that was needed, and absent, in a loss Wednesday night at No. 4 Tennessee.
"We competed hard," senior Sonny Weems said. "I don't think we should drop our heads too low."
Now two games behind the Bulldogs in the SEC Western Division, the Razorbacks (17-7, 6-2) surely would've had ample reasons to sulk had they repeated their first-half performance.
Throughout the first 20 minutes, the Bulldogs outworked the Razorbacks. They were quicker to loose balls. They grabbed 11 more rebounds than Arkansas. They forced seven turnovers.
And they kept feeding the ball to Mississippi State forward Charles Rhodes, who had 19 of his game-high 24 points before halftime. Rhodes had 15 of those points in the first 5 minutes, 56 seconds of the game.
"We just came out lackadaisical and didn't play hard in the first half," Weems said.
The substantial turnaround after halftime was apparent immediately. Arkansas' defensive intensity increased drastically. Vincent Hunter's 3-pointer started a stretch where the Hogs nailed nine out of 14 shots.
And when Darian Townes barreled into Bulldog shot blocker Jarvis Varnado, knocked him over and dunked on him, Arkansas led 60-56 with 11:24 left.
"They kind of us hit us there and we kind of backed up," said Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury, who called Arkansas' effort its best on the road this season.
Not much changed during the last 11 minutes. Arkansas didn't slack off one bit. The Bulldogs merely connected on more shots than the Razorbacks. While Ben Hansbrough drilled a contested 3-pointer and Jamont Gordon made his only field goal on a wild layup over 7-footer Steven Hill, the Hogs misfired.
They went 3 minutes, 39 seconds without a point. And after a Charles Thomas turnover, two missed 3s by Hunter, a missed 3 by Weems and a Townes turnover, Arkansas trailed 73-70 with 3:32 to go.
The Razorbacks didn't get any closer.
"We just needed to get that extra basket or that extra stop," senior Gary Ervin said.
Despite not coming up with that extra hoop or that extra defensive play, the Razorbacks insisted they could move on to Wednesday's game against LSU with confidence.
Two losses in four days didn't wreck their spirit, especially because of the last 20 minutes of the latter.
"It showed a lot of character," Ervin said. "It shows a lot of growth in our team. That's the biggest thing. You want to progress every game. In the last game against Tennessee, the lead kind of got open, and we didn't fight back like we know we can. In this game we did.
"We need to take this second half to the LSU game and the game after that and the game after that."
MSU 80, Arkansas 74
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