Mississippi State defeats Arkansas

Published 12:04 am Friday, January 15, 2010

STARKVILLE (AP) — Arkansas coach Mike Pelphrey sent his players into the paint at Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado without relent.

That’s just fine with the nation’s most accomplished shot blocker.

Varnado finished with a career-high 10 blocks, 17 points and 12 rebounds for his second triple-double and the Bulldogs held off the late-charging Razorbacks for an 82-80 on Thursday night.

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“When you thought you had a shot, he came out of nowhere and just got it,” Arkansas forward Marshawn Powell said.

Varnado’s last block came in the crucial final 10 seconds of a game Mississippi State led by as much as 19 in the first half but nearly lost. It helped move him past Tim Duncan of Wake Forest into third place on the NCAA’s career blocked shots list and he needs just 52 more to set the record.

The triple-double was the school’s fourth, but it almost came for naught as the Bulldogs (14-3, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) failed to hit a field goal in the final 3:45 and missed 4 of 8 free throws with the game on the line before pulling out their 11th victory in 12 games.

“He’s probably the difference in the game,” Arkansas coach Mike Pelphrey said. “He had 10 blocks. That’s a minimum of 20 points that he cost us, and he also altered and disrupted several others.”

His defensive presence was especially noticeable late. Courtney Fortson, who finished with 20 points and five assists, drove the lane without fear in the first half, floating shots over Varnado for 16 first-half points but found the lane less inviting in the second half as his shots lost some of their loft.

About the only player who was having second-half success in the paint for the Razorbacks (7-9, 0-1) was Powell, who scored 21 of his 25 points in the final 20 minutes.

He hit 14 of Arkansas’ last 22 points and always seemed to be around the ball when the Razorbacks were cutting into the Bulldogs’ lead. He put back a miss by Fortson to make it 58-51 5 minutes into the second half, took it to 78-72 on a three-point play with 3:46 left and pulled Arkansas to 81-78 with 8.6 seconds left.

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said Powell has improved the Arkansas lineup this season and he showed why as he led the Arkansas rally, using his body for rebounds, layups and short jumpers.

“Powell’s a load now,” Varnado said. “He’s going to be a good player for them. He was setting up low and using his height advantage to overpower Phil (Turner) and his quickness on Kodi (Augustus).”

Powell fouled Dee Bost immediately on the inbounds play. The point guard, who finished with 20 points and six assists, gave the Bulldogs a four-point cushion by hitting one of two free throws, leaving Fortson with a desperation 3-point shot. He missed, gathered in the rebound and scored the final basket as time expired.

Mississippi State was shaky late before sending Arkansas to its fourth straight loss. Bost hit the team’s final basket, a 3-pointer to make it 78-69, with 3:57 left. He missed two more shots and 3 of 6 free throws the rest of the way, but the Bulldogs never panicked.

They’ve lost their share of close games late the last two seasons and drew upon what they’ve learned to secure Stansbury’s 11th win in 12 SEC home openers as coach.

“I think we did kind of a poor job in the second half,” Varnado said. “The tempo was fast and we were kind of fumbling the ball. But coach got us calmed down.”