Arkansas 67, Mississippi State 62

Courtney Fortson became a virtuoso in basketball shoes in the second half of Arkansas' 67-62 win over Mississippi State by scoring 33 of his career-high 35 points before a crowd of 4,113 fans at Bud Walton Arena.

The Latin term virtuoso made its way into the Italian language back in the 16th century and was used for a person distinguished in any intellectual or artistic field.

But in modern times it has become acceptable for it to describe a 'master' or 'ace' who is especially or dazzlingly skilled at what they do.

University of Arkansas sophomore point guard Courtney Fortson was indeed a virtuoso after halftime on Thursday night.

Fortson scored 33 of his career-high 35 points in the second half to will his team to a 67-62 win over Mississippi State before an announced crowd of 4,113 fans at Bud Walton Arena.

"It was just a lot of voices on the sideline saying ‘They can't stop you,'" said Fortson, whose 33 points matched what the entire Mississippi State team scored in the second half.

The inclement weather – and likely the UA's 101-70 thrashing at No. 2 Kentucky Saturday combined with only 3 wins in their past 24 SEC games – kept the attendance down, but not the home team.

It was an amazing turnaround from Saturday's humbling defeat, which seem to carry over into the first half of Thursday's game.

"I think this shows that we are a strong-minded team," Fortson said. "I think it shows that we have a will to compete and a will to attack. There may be losses on certain nights, but we are going into the game optimistic. I think about that and I think that is what drives us."

Those who did show up – and an ESPN2 national television audience – were treated to something special late as the Razorbacks (9-11, 2-3) matched their SEC win total of last season by scoring 26 of the game's last 37 points.

""Courtney just put us on his back and willed us to a win," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "It seemed like he got faster...Him getting 33 in the second half is remarkable. I don't know if I have ever heard anything like that in my entire life against that type of team. That is a really good team."

Pelphrey knew he was witnessing something that doesn't happen often, especially against the SEC West-leading Bulldogs (15-5, 3-2).

It was a team that had downed the Razorbacks 82-80 in Starkville two weeks ago in a game that Arkansas fell down 19 in the first half and then had still had a chance to win late.

"We know how good they are and have good they have been over the last several years in this league and especially in the West," Pelphrey said. "It took something very unique for us to be able to get this done tonight. I'm not sure that I even totally understand it."

Pelphrey does think that the crowd - which numbered far more students than normal as they got in free - was a big factor.

"I thought our fans were unbelievable," Pelphrey said. "I really did. Our student body was so inspiring tonight and somehow, someway that got into Courtney. That never wavered.

"That was probably not the best basketball game in the world to watch for a long, long period of time, but they just kept cheering, kept cheering and we kind of kept playing. The other guys were out there and our defense - we were kind of getting up in the backcourt a little more, used our guard depth. I don't know if we were able to wear guys down on some of the careless plays that Mississippi State had with a turnover or two or not being able to convert a shot."

Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury – whose team led 51-41 with just over 8 minutes left – was one of the few in the building not happy about Fortson's effort.

The effort was a 9-of-17 one from the field, 3-of-6 effort from 3-point range and a 14-of-18 from the free throw line – where he recorded career-bests in makes and attempts.

He got a lot of those shots to go over MSU's 6-9 Jarvis Varnado, who had 10 blocks in the earlier game, but just 2 in this contest.

"You know basically it turned into a Fortson game – that is basically what it was," Stansbury said. "He had two points at halftime, he got 33 points in the second half. That's basically where it is. We kept him out of the lane the first half and absolutely couldn't keep him out in the second half.

"We didn't respond very well consistently keeping him out of that lane," Stansbury added. "When he gets in that lane there is nothing good that happens for the opponent. He scores, he gets fouled or creates plays for somebody else. He did the first two a bunch tonight."

Fortson was 2-of-2 from the line at halftime. That means he hit 12-of-16 in the second 20 minutes of the game.

"He shot 16 free throws in the second half," Stansbury said. "That is a horrible stat."

Stefan Welsh provided 12 points – including a pair of late 3-pointers that kept his team in the game in the opening half.

That came after the Razorbacks had dropped behind 27-15 and looked ready to be knocked out.

"He hits two big 3s at the end of the first half," Pelphrey said. "He practiced pretty well (this week)...I think he led better than he has all year...He hung in there and got the shots he was capable of making.

"I tell him all the time that you are a very good catch-and-shoot 3-point guy," Pelphrey added. "So shoot those. The catch and shoots."

Welsh was more interested in talking about Fortson, whose performance is even more impressive when he consider he sprained his ankle in the first half and had to leave the game.

"That's just a big-time player stepping up for his team when we needed him most," guard Stefan Welsh said.

"…"I just told him to keep attacking the basket because they can't stop you," Welsh added. "They really had a hard time defending him on the pick-and-roll."

The Bulldogs led 27-15 late in the first half, but Welsh's big shots got them within 29-21 by halftime.

He had missed his last 12 3-pointers over a span of several games before swishing those two.

It was an atrocious first half of basketball as both teams combined to hit just 16 of 65 field goals – including 4 of 25 3-pointers.

Arkansas did respond to shoot 48.1 percent in the second half to finish at 36.5 percent from the field to the visitors' 31.3 percent overall.

Still the two teams combined to hit just 40-of-119 field goals and 12-of-47 3-pointers.

"Give Arkansas credit," Stansbury said. "They hung in, stayed around and took advantage of the opportunity that they had. We were not able to keep scoring."

That was in part because of the improved defense that the Razorbacks played.

"That was probably 20 minutes of the best defense we have played all year," Welsh said. "Everybody was flying around. You could hear everybody talking, diving for the ball, rebounding. It was a total team effort."

Marshawn Powell added 9 points and 9 rebounds for Arkansas, who won despite leading scorer Rotnei Clarke having just 6 points and senior center Michael Washington having just 3 points and 3 rebounds.

Fortson was quick to point out the bench, which was saw Welsh play 24 minutes, Delvon Johnon 12 and Glenn Bryant 11.

"I want to congratulate our bench for playing a good game," Fortson said. "Glenn Bryant and Delvon rebounding was big for us, Stef coming off the bench. I think that was a a key factor in the game."

Ravern Johnson had 19 points, Kodi Augustus 10 points and 10 rebounds and Varnado 9 points and 14 rebounds.

Arkansas now gets to face the new SEC West leader when it travels to play Ole Miss at 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.

The Razorbacks will go to Oxford with a little more confidence.

"I think it is always big to win,"Pelphrey said. "As coaches and players we always live and die with our last one and try to get prepared for the next one...In this league it is big to win, it is great to win at home in front of our fans. They are so unbelievable. It brings a smile to your face. It really does."

Courtney Fortson, Marshawn Powell and Delvon Johnson all eye a loose ball along with Mississippi State's Kodi Augustus.

Johnson and Powell battle inside with Jarvis Varnado.

Rotnei Clarke fires a jumper over Phil Turner and Riley Benock.

Fortson drives past Turner.

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