FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas first-year coach Mike Anderson promised a frenetic, pressing style when he took over the program in March.
He delivered just that in his first signature win, beating Mississippi State (No. 16 ESPN/USA Today, No. 15 AP) 98-88 on Saturday night.
Julysses Nobles scored a career-high 24 points and freshman B.J. Youngadded 24 to help Arkansas open Southeastern Conference play with a win. The victory was the Razorbacks (12-3, 1-0 SEC) seventh straight and improved them to 12-0 in Bud Walton Arena this season.
A season-high crowd of 12,200 watched Arkansas earn its first signature win under Anderson, and it came in style. The Razorbacks, who have only made the NCAA tournament three times since the 2000-01 season, scored a season-high 98 points and scored 23 points off 18 Bulldogs’ turnovers.
It was a scene similar to the style made famous by Anderson’s mentor, former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, who guided the Razorbacks to the 1994 national championship with Anderson as an assistant.
“That was fun basketball for our fans to have a chance to watch and enjoy,” Anderson said. “So, when you ask the question ‘Is that the kind of basketball I envisioned,’ yes.”
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs (13-3, 0-1) lost for the second time in three games — with their lone victory in that stretch a come-from-behind win against Utah State on Dec. 31. DeVille Smith led Mississippi State with 25 points, while Dee Bost added 21 and Rodney Hood 17.
The performances, however, weren’t nearly enough to overcome an Arkansas team with only nine scholarship players.
“Offensively, we couldn’t contain their dribble, and they jumped up and made shots from everywhere, lots of different people,” Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. “Then they sped us up offensively, and we just didn’t do a very good job of handling their pressure.”
Both Nobles and Young played like they had something to prove, and it was no coincidence that both have Mississippi ties. Nobles is a Jackson, Miss., native and Young’s father is from Starkville.
Nobles scored 15 in the first half as the Razorbacks forced 11 turnovers and opened a 43-37 halftime lead. The junior finished 4 of 7 on 3-pointers, and he did so after averaging only five points per game over his last seven games.
Nobles came off the bench in Arkansas’ last game, but he returned to a starting role against the Bulldogs. He ignited the crowd in the first half with three 3-pointers, and his last trey of the half gave the Razorbacks a 39-29 lead.
“It was good, because like I said, I’ve been struggling and my team knows they need me,” Nobles said. “That was a great game for me and my teammates. They keep me going every day.”
Young, no stranger to big performances in big games this season, had his time in the spotlight in the second half. The freshman, who scored a career-high 28 points in an earlier loss at defending national champion Connecticut, came off the bench to help the Razorbacks push their lead to 19 early in the half.
He did so with his run of 10-straight points for Arkansas, including a pair of 3-pointers, as the Razorbacks took a 66-47 lead.
“It was kind of a personal game for me and Julysses,” Young said. “So, I think it was a great total team win to show the world and our fans what we’ve really got and what we’ve been working on all summer and all season. It was good to have it all come together.”
The Bulldogs closed the lead to 11 at 79-68 after a trio of free throws by Smith, but that was as close as they would get until the closing minute.
Arkansas shot 57 percent (35 of 62) and led by as many as 20 in the second half, and five players finished in double figures. Michael Sanchez and Mardracus Wade had 12 points apiece, while Ky Madden finished with 11.
Mississippi State also shot the ball well, finishing 27 of 52 (52 percent) from the field and hitting nine of 20 3-point attempts. However, the Bulldogs’ troubles with the Razorbacks’ pressure proved too much to overcome.
“I didn’t think we could play any worse (than the first half),” Stansbury said. “But I found out we could.”