The University of Arkansas basketball team might be 2-0 if it was in the Big 12, but the Razorbacks are in the SEC and got out of the conference gate with a loss.
Dee Bost and Barry Stewart had 17 points each and Jarvis Varnado 16 points and 9 rebounds as Mississippi State ended Arkansas' 10-game winning streak in dominant fashion with a 70-56 decision Saturday night at Bud Walton Arena before 18,884 fans.
That was enough to offset yet another double-double by Michael Washington - 18 points and 15 rebounds – with Rotnei Clarke's 14 points making him the only player in double figures for the Razorbacks (12-2, 0-1).
"Mississippi State played very well, especially in the second half," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "They came in with their defense and executed offensively at a high level. They made big shots and their guards played well. You've got to give them credit. This was a tough loss for us. We just didn't make the most of our opportunities."
The Razorbacks must regroup in a hurry with a road game at Ole Miss coming up on Wednesday night and Saturday game at Florida.
It will be the their first road games since a 79-77 win at South Alabama way back on Nov. 26.
"We have 16 games (at least) left," Pelphrey said. "We aren't quite halfway through the season so we have just got to pick ourselves up and move on. We have no excuses for tonight. Mississippi State outplayed us and outcoached us tonight. We need to respond well to our next two road games."
The biggest difference in Saturday's game was clearly the way the two teams shot from the 3-point line.
The Bulldogs were 11-of-27 from beyond the arc while the home team was just a woeful 3-of-22.
"We got good looks, we just didn't make the shots," Pelphrey said. "Those shots played a big part in this game. Mississippi State was able to make a lot more."
Arkansas shot just 35.9 percent from the field overall while Mississippi State hit 44.6 of its floor shots.
"John Pelphrey has this team playing great," Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said. "It's hard to win in this environment and we probably didn't catch them on their best night. I don't think I have brought a team in here that kept their composure like these guys."
Stefan Welsh and Courtney Fortson – two guards whose shooting and playmaking had help power the Arkansas in wins over Oklahoma and Texas in the last two games at Bud Walton Arena.
The pair were just 6-of-29 combined and 0-of-12 from 3-point range.
Welsh was just 4-of-16 from the field while scoring 8 points – including missing all 7 of his shots from 3-point range - while Fortson had just 5 points was 2-of-13 with only 4 assists.
"Our style is to shoot threes," Welsh said. "When they fall, it's good. On the nights they don't fall, it's not so good."
Washington was 8-of-15 from the field, with 8 offensive rebounds, 7 defensive rebounds. His only minus was six turnovers.
He was unable to do interviews because he was getting an IV in the training room after his body cramped.
"He had a good game," Pelphrey said. "He had a double-double and played 38 minutes. We just wore him out."
Washington and Fortson had 10 of their team's 14 turnovers.
"I told my team we had to control Fortson and Washington and I thought we did that," Stansbury said. "Washington got most of his points on offensive rebounds and there's nothing we can do about that with the lack of size on this team.
"Dee Bost showed great grittiness and showed that he could play well on the road," Stansbury said. "(Fortson) is one of the best in the league at getting to the basket and we did a good job of keeping him out."
Bost – like Fortson a talented point guard playing his first year in the league – added 5 assists and 5 rebounds for his the Bulldogs, who have now won three straight.
"We knew we had to take control, not be careless, stay poised and make plays," Bost said. "As a freshmen it is tough to come into this environment like this, but I just fed off the crowd tonight. knowing that Arkansas just beat two top 10 teams - this is a good win for us."
Monk was impressed with Bost.
"Their point guard hit some great shots, some long threes," Monk said. "He penetrated and made some nice plays there, too."
The normal fast-breaking Razorbacks were outscored 15-0 on the break on Saturday night.
"It's hard to get on the break when you don't get defensive stops and don't get steals," Arkansas senior Marcus Monk said. "They were hitting shots and that doesn't give you opportunity for fast breaks."
It was certainly a disheartening loss after the ride the Razorbacks had been on.
"Every loss is disappointing," Monk said. "Just like the last games were (good), this one was at the other end of that. But it's the first conference game. There are many more to go."
Including another game with Mississppi State on Feb. 7 in Starkville.
"Give Mississippi State and Coach Stansbury credit," Welsh said. "They came into a hostile environment, executed. We had every opportunity tonight, but our shots didn't fall. Hats off to Mississippi State. We can't wait to see them again."
After leading 34-32 at half and then falling behind 41-37, Mississippi State reeled off 13 straight points to grab control of the game.
Bost's 3-point gave his team a 43-41 lead it would never relinquish and he capped the run with another bucket that got the Bulldogs ahead 50-41 with just over 13 minutes left.
The Razorbacks would never get closer than 6 from that point and 5 straight points from Bost put the visitors up 62-50 with over five minutes left and really put the game on ice.
"It was just not our night," Welsh said. "It was very disappointing to lose the conference opener. But you have got to remember that we have six freshmen and this was their first SEC game. Now we have to lace it up and be ready to play on the road. You can't have an off night in the SEC."
The pre-game ceremony included football recruits walking out to thunderous applause and signs being held up by the student bearing their names.
Mississippi State stormed out to a 10-2 lead which Arkansas cut to 1 only to see it zoom back to 17-11 when Phil Turner drilled a 3-pointer at the 11:14 mark.
The 5-11 Fortson's shot over the 6-9 Varnado tied it 20-20 with 8:25 remaining in the first half.
The Razorbacks then surged ahead 26-23 on six straight points capped by Washington's slam.
Varnado's bucket capped the first-half scoring and sent the Bulldogs to the locker room ahead 34-32.
Arkansas got out of the second half well and went ahead 41-37 on Clarke's 3-pointer with 16:02 remaining in the game.
But the Mississippi State haymaker turned things back around and gives it a boost headed into a Wednesday night home game with Alabama.
"As bad as this one hurts, we can't sulk," Welsh said. "The SEC season is not a sprint, but a marathon."
The marathon's next stops are in Oxford and Gainesville.
"This was a very disappointing loss," Clarke said. "The biggest key will be if we are able to bounce back on the road. I feel like we were prepared for this game and had a lot of fire. But Mississippi State just shot the ball better and were able to hit those crucial shots."
Mississippi State 70, Arkansas 56
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