Mississippi State (15-5, 5-4 SEC) bolted out to an astonishing, 52-18, halftime lead enroute to its fifth league win in the last six outings while staying on the heels of Western Division leader Auburn.
Not only does the key decision keep the Dogs within striking distance of first place in the tight SEC West race, but it puts them in position to sweep their current three-game homestand. One thing that makes that so interesting is that the final game of the threesome is with in-state rival Ole Miss, Saturday, Feb. 15, the day before Valentine's.
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said the resurgent Maroon and White played with tremendous energy, with more confidence, we played together and we shared the basketball.
"We started 0-3 in league play," pointed out Stansbury, who has seen the Dogs score a combined 166 points in their last two outings at The Hump while holding the opposition to 114 points, a 52-point cushion.
Stansbury said first-year Arkansas coach Stan Heath has done a great job with his team and the Razorbacks were a concern for the Dogs coming into Starkville.
"They (Arkansas) play very hard and rebound the basketball extremely well. But today I thought our team was the best at both ends (of the court).
"There's no question that Arkansas is a very good basketball team. They beat Alabama by 20 points so they must be doing something right. It'll be a very difficult team to play when we go up to Fayetteville (March 1).
"I think this team is gaining momentum at the right time. I like our confidence. I also like some rotations we're settling on," said Stansbury, who'll have an open date (Wednesday) before the rematch with Rod Barnes' Ole Miss Rebels (12-8, 3-6 SEC) and not likely to be in a very cooperative mood following their one-point, 58-57, loss in the final seconds to the Dogs on a driving layup by Derrick Zimmerman last month at Oxford.
"We know Ole Miss is a very good basketball team," said Stansbury. "We had rather play (Wednesday), but we'll make the adjustment. It's our next basketball game. That makes it special."
He said the extra time may be a "real blessing" with exciting sophomore Winsome Frazier being held out of the second half against Arkansas with a possible ankle sprain after exploding for 12 points in just 13 minutes on the floor during the Dogs' first half scoring spree.
It didn't take long for Mississippi State to hit its stride against the Razorbacks, a team that had been playing about as well as anyone. In fact, the Dogs sizzled on offense and defense.
An energetic crowd of 8,460 stayed on its feet most of the afternoon at The Hump joined by "Rick's Rowdies" who've experienced two of the Dogs' best games of the season during their current homestand. The league match was televised by FOX Sports Net South.
The Bulldogs remain one game behind SEC West leader Auburn (17-5, 6-3) which escaped LSU, 56-54, on a 3-pointer by Nathan Watson with four second remaining. MSU still has two dates with Auburn, Feb. 19 at Auburn while closing out the regular season March 8 hosting the Tigers.
Stansbury's Dogs have "cooled off" two very hot teams the past two games, both converging on Starkville with lots of momentum before being turned back by the Maroon and White.
Mississippi State's gifted backcourt duo of lightning-quick guards Derrick "Z" Zimmerman and Timmy Bowers, who Stansbury wouldn't trade for any pair this side of the NBA, had a big hand in the last two backyard bouts at The Hump, including a 22-point win over Vanderbilt (82-60).
A former "Mississippi Player of the Year" at Harrison Central (Gulfport), Bowers said the first half against Arkansas may have been the best of his career.
"I think it was the best half since I've been here," said Bowers, who combined with "Z", his backcourt mate, for 13 points and as many assists with four blocks and two steals.
Bowers had a big defensive assignment, guarding Arkansas standout guard Jonathon Modia, who was coming off back-to-back 26-point efforts against Florida and Alabama.
"It was a challenge for me," said Bowers in reference to his assignment. "I kind of took it upon myself to try and shut him (Modica) down. He was coming off a couple of big games and I didn't want to let him come here and get a 26-point game and help his team to a victory. I just wanted to stop him from scoring."
Modica finished with four points and as many rebounds, well off his average with the Razorbacks, who were led by guard Eric Ferguson with 13 points and Michael Jones with 11.
Mississippi State All-American "Super" Mario Austin had a "double-double" with 19 points and 12 rebounds to pace three Bulldogs in double figures. Ontario Harper had 14 points and Frazier 12 (all in the first half.
Seven-foot sophomore reserve center Marcus Campbell just missed a "double-double" with nine points and 10 rebounds, giving the Dogs a tremendous lift off the bench as did Branden Vincent, Lincoln Smith and Frazier.
"Marcus (Campbell) played well, scoring and getting rebounds. He's making progress," said Stansbury, who also applauded the play of Vincent and Frazier in particular.
"We've been able to play big some, with Michal Ignerski at the 3. It's helped our whole team's confidence," added Stansbury.
Arkansas' Heath said, "give Mississippi State credit, they really handled us. They create a lot of things off of their defense. They force you to take bad shots that end up being long rebounds and end up being fast break points," he said.
The 18 first half points allowed by Mississippi State marked the fifth time this season (second in SEC play; 19 first half points by South Carolina) that the Bulldogs have held the opposition to less than 20 points in a half.
The 30-point win marks the Dogs' largest margin of victory in an SEC contest since claiming an 89-53 home victory over Auburn last season. MSU had eight blocked shots, (three by Zimmerman) which matches the single game high for the Dogs in an SEC game during the "Stansbury era" last recorded with eight rejects against Georgia during the 1999-2000 campaign. The Dogs senior point guard, Zimmerman fed Austin time and time again for baskets down low.
Heath, while not looking for an excuse, said, for the time being, that the Razorbacks just don't have a Mario Austin out on the floor, nor a Derrick Zimmerman.
"Mario's as good as it gets in college basketball. He's fun to watch if you're not the coach on the other side coaching against him. Mississippi State does a good job of finding him. That's a credit to their players for being unselfish," said Heath.
Mississippi State close out the three-game homestand today at The Hump in a rematch with Ole Miss.
Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer who is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News, writes a weekly article for Gene's Page.