During pre-game ceremonies, Mississippi State and its fans honored its five seniors, Marckell Patterson, Michael Gholar, Guy Gardner, Brandon Carr and Corey Stidham, with a standing ovation.
"I am very proud to send those five seniors out on a winning note," said Stansbury.
Arkansas did not make it easy for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 2-0 lead only to see Arkansas score the next four points to take a 4-2 lead. The Bulldogs tied the game up a couple of times but Arkansas did not relinquish the lead until the Bulldogs went on a 16-0 run that started at the 11:17 mark and ended with 5:23 left in the half.
After Mississippi State pulled out to a eleven point lead with 3:30 to go in the half, Arkansas went on a 13-2 run to tie MSU up at the half, 41-41.
"I didn't think we had quite the intensity at the start of the game, but that was understandable coming off that game Saturday and your kids, basically, knowing that they had clinched an NCAA bid," said Stansbury. "That was a concern."
At the half, MSU was led in scoring by sophomore Mario Austin with 14 points and senior Marckell Patterson with 12. MSU dominated the back boards 21 to 10. Arkansas stayed in the game during the first half due to their shooting from the three-point line (7-of-14).
Mississippi State started the second half off with a four-point spurt to make the score 45-41, but Arkansas countered that with a five-point run of their own to take a one-point, 46-45, lead.
Arkansas senior guard Jannero Pargo then took over the Arkansas offense. He made his first of five second half three-pointers at the 15:50 mark to put Arkansas up 51-47.
The two teams traded baskets for the next nine minutes with Arkansas finally taking a 70-65 lead at the 6:49 minute mark.
From that point on, MSU and Arkansas traded baskets until MSU went on a 7-0 run to go up by six, 83-77, with 48 seconds to go in the game.
Arkansas, trying to stay in the game, fouled the Bulldogs but MSU made 4-of-6 free throws to staved off the heroic efforts of Pargo who made three free throws and a three-pointer during the last 44 seconds of the game. Pargo, playing like a man possessed, made 13 of Arkansas' last 15 points.
"It seems like everytime we play Arkansas, Pargo steps up and has a career game against us," said Stansbury about the play of Pargo. "He is a terrific player. We had two defenders on him. We survived an A game from him."
On the night, Mario Austin led the Bulldogs with 30 points, recorded 13 rebounds, was 10-12 from the field, 10-12 from the free-throw line, handed out 4 assists, had 2 block shots and recorded 1 steal. He also did not turn the ball over.
"Everybody knows our team functions so much better when Mario is in the game," said Stansbury. "I thought he dominated both ends tonight. He got all their big guys in foul trouble. They had no answer for him."
Two other Bulldogs joined Mario in the double digit scoring category, Patterson with 21 points and Zimmerman with 11 (9-of-11 from the FT line). Zimmerman also handed out 9 assists while turning the ball over just 3 times.
"The secret is I have been getting up early in the morning and shooting with Coach (Stan) Jones," said Zimmerman, a 55% free-throw shooter coming into the game. "It has been paying off. The last game I was 3-for-4 and tonight I only missed 2."
Arkansas' Pargo led all scorers with 35 points. Brandon Dean and Teddy Gipson scored 18 and 12 points to join him in double figures.
Mississippi State outrebounded Arkansas 46-21.
"I thought our team totally controlled the backboards," said Stansbury. "I think we outrebounded them 46 to 21 for the game. And that is a huge difference."
Mississippi State, with the Mississippi loss to LSU, is now in sole possession of second place in the SEC West and will earn the Western Division second seed with a victory over South Carolina this Saturday (2 p.m. ET, 1 p.m. CT). If MSU loses to South Carolina and Mississippi defeats Alabama Sunday, then Mississippi earns the second seed.
Mississippi State, winners of 7 of their last 10 games, is not only playing for SEC seeding but NCAA seeding as well. If State continues to win, their seeding in the NCAA will go up to a possible five seed. If State wins the SEC Tournament, then we could be looking at a possible second or third seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"Our basketball team now has 22 wins and a RPI of 15 in the country," said Stansbury. "Based on that, I think our team is now working on positioning itself for a seeding (in the NCAA Tournament). With our wins, our strength of schedule and our RPI rating, we are just trying to position ourselves for a number 3 or 4 seed."
"I am very proud to send those five seniors out on a winning note."
"Our team doesn't always do it the easy way, but we find a way to win basketball games."
"That second half was about effort. I thought our team totally controlled the backboards. I think we outrebounded them 46 to 21 for the game. And that is a huge difference."
"It seems like everytime we play Arkansas, Pargo steps up and has a career game against us. He is a terrific player. We had two defenders on him."
"I thought we won the game without some of our players having their best efforts. I thought that Michael Gholar, for about thirty minutes, did not play his game. But those last eight minutes, he was a warrior on the backboards. That is the way you want your seniors to go out. I let him sit over there for a long time, but he responded the way you want your seniors to. Without him, I don't think we would have won the ballgame."
Talking about Mario Austin's play.
"Everybody knows our team functions so much better when Mario is in the game. I thought he dominated both ends tonight."
Did you talk to Mario about fouls after the Ole Miss game?
"No, we want him in the game and he knows we want him in the game. Sometimes that is the nature of the game. That is how that whistle is. There were a couple fouls called during that game that you could question. At the same time we don't want him in there at the expense of our defense. I thought he did a great job tonight on Lane. He got all their big guys in foul trouble. They had no answer for him."
With everything that went on with Nolan Richardson recently, did you feel Arkansas would be ready to play?
"There was no question. We understood that they would come in here and play well. Number one, they have a very good basketball team. They have some veterans on the team and he went with his veterans. His veterans stepped up and played their A game on the road. We were prepared for that. It was also a huge game for us. It was our last home game and our twenty-second win. And we had five seniors that we wanted to send out on the right note."
Did you change your lineup some tonight?
"I slide Ontario Harper down to the four spot tonight because I didn't think Iggy and Gholar were playing their basketball. I sat them both down and went with Harper. I know that Harper jumped up and made a big shot for us in the corner and gave us some energy. After that, I went with Gholar and he was a warrior for us."
Do you think this puts your team in the NCAA Tournament?
"My opinion doesn't matter, but I think that decision was made before this basketball game. Our basketball team has 22 wins now, and a RPI of 15 in the country. Based on that, I think our team is now working on is positioning itself for a seeding. With our wins, our strength of schedule and our RPI rating, we are just trying to position ourselves for a number 3 or 4 seed."
With Ole Miss losing tonight, you could win Saturday and earn the advantage of the first-round bye in the SEC Tournament.
"I don't know if that is an advantage or not. The advantage is you don't play that first day, but the problem is the team you play is a team that has already played. Everybody has a week to prepare going into the tournament. If it happens, it happens. I guess this game for sure clinched us a tie for second place.
"We are just trying to win basketball games. We go to South Carolina next. They have a very good basketball, but at the same time we also have a very good basketball team. Our team is playing as well as anybody in this league right now. I think that is five of the last six games that we have won. I like how we are playing."
I felt like your team didn't quite have the same intensity that they had against Ole Miss when they first came out. Did you also notice that?
"I didn't think we had quite the intensity, but that was understandable coming off that game Saturday and your kids, basically, knowing that they had clinched an NCAA bid. That was a concern."
You were 9-of-11 from the free-throw line. Talk about that.
"The secret is I have been getting up early in the morning and shooting with Coach Jones. It has been paying off. The last game I was 3-for-4 and tonight I just missed 2. That is a big improvement."
I noticed that they were getting some open shots at first. It appeared that you guys didn't have quite the intensity that you did against Ole Miss. Was that the after-effects of the rivalry game with Ole Miss?
"Arkansas' offense spread you out so wide and bring their shooters up for a lot of screens, that makes you go after them in a lot of different ways. And they play pretty good off the dribble with Pargo and Dane and Gipson. We were just caught trying to help too much and trying to recover. They were just going right by us and making their shots."
With you now having to play all your games on the road from now on, is it almost like starting tournament play?
"We kind of look at it like that, but we, basically, are going to take it one game at a time. Coach told us in the locker room that we have sole possession of second place right now with Ole Miss losing. we are going to talk tomorrow as a team. We basically will say that we are not satisified with that because anything can happen."
I believe you now have the second best or third best team in the SEC.
"I looked at that the other day and said to myself how is Kentucky and the other teams ranked and they have a worse record than us. But you can't pay any attention to that, because that doesn't mean anything. As long as we keep winning and playing, we will be fine."
This team seems to be extremely tough mentally. Talk about that.
"We have the type mentally that we aren't going to lose. Everybody on this team came from a winning program and that is one of the things that we all bring to the team."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.