STARKVILLE – Arnett Moultrie was throwing down alley-oop dunks. Dee Bost was draining jumpers and dishing out assists. Brian Bryant was slashing through the lane and finishing at the rim.
It was a nearly perfect performance that reminded Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury much more of January than February and the result was a 79-59 victory over Arkansas that has the Bulldogs feeling much better about their postseason chances heading into the Southeastern Conference tournament.
“Our guys came out and did what you’re supposed to do on senior night,” Stansbury said. “You always worry about the emotions a little bit where guys’ minds are but I thought we played extremely well together. We shared the basketball, took care of the basketball. Their press was no factor.”
It’s the second straight win for the Bulldogs, who were nationally ranked throughout all of January before a five-game swoon in February killed the team’s momentum and clouded their NCAA tournament prospects.
Mississippi State (21-10, 8-8) still might need a win or two in the SEC tournament to feel safe about an at-large berth, but the Bulldogs are certainly in a better spot than they were a week ago.
Against Arkansas, they could do almost nothing wrong.
Moultrie scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his 18th double-double of the season. The 6-foot-11 junior had another efficient game in a season full of them, making 7 of 9 shots from the field and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line.
He was especially active in the first half, with 14 points and seven rebounds as the Bulldogs built a 37-23 halftime lead.
Arkansas (18-13, 6-10) has lost seven of nine games. B.J. Young led the Razorbacks with 16 points while Mardracus Wade added 12 and Rashad Madden scored 10.
The dominating victory was further proof that Mississippi State has recovered from its February woes. The Bulldogs ended the five-game losing streak on Wednesday with an overtime victory at South Carolina and followed up by whipping the Razorbacks in their most complete performance in more than a month.
Mississippi State had a substantial size advantage in the post and exploited it repeatedly. The two teams went back and forth for the first few minutes, but the Bulldogs pulled ahead thanks to easy looks at the rim for Moultrie, Renardo Sidney and Wendell Lewis.
Mississippi State finished the game with 10 dunks, outscored Arkansas 42-22 in the paint and outrebounded the Razorbacks 36-27.
While Mississippi State was getting point-blank opportunities in the post, Arkansas had to settle for mostly jump shots. Young shot 7 of 10 from the field, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range.
“The game was at their pace, it favored them,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “Bost did a good job of controlling things.”
The Bulldogs shot 51.8 percent from the field (29 of 56) including 55.6 percent in the second half (15 of 27). Bost scored 16 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out seven assists while Bryant added 15 points. The two seniors were playing in their final regular-season game at Humphrey Coliseum.
“It’s now or never,” Bost said. “It’s my last year and I want to go back to the (NCAA) tournament. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Bryant’s emergence gives the Bulldogs another offensive option heading into the postseason. He’s scored a combined 31 points over the past two games. The 6-3 guard moved into the starting lineup last week after Rodney Hood suffered a knee injury.
Hood has returned, but Bryant has stayed in the starting lineup because of his productivity.
“I need to step up,” Bryant said. “Rodney’s been hurt and I needed to take the pressure off Moultrie, (Renardo) Sidney and Bost.”
Mississippi State earned the No. 6 seed for next week’s conference tournament in New Orleans and Arkansas is the ninth seed.[signoff]