FAYETTEVILLE — The only current member of the University of Arkansas basketball team to play in a victory over Mississippi State was at SMU the previous three years.
Senior guard Jimmy Whitt, who began his college career as a freshman at Arkansas during the 2015-16 season, returned to the Razorbacks as a graduate transfer this season after redshirting at SMU and being a two-year starter for the Mustangs.
Whitt went scoreless in 10 minutes off the Arkansas bench when the Razorbacks beat the Bulldogs 82-68 in Walton Arena on Jan. 9, 2016. That’s the last time Arkansas beat Mississippi State — 1,498 days ago.
The Bulldogs pounded the Razorbacks 78-46 at Humphrey Coliseum on Feb. 9, 2016, in that year’s rematch — this time Whitt scored 20 points in 20 minutes — to match Arkansas’ most-lopsided SEC loss along with a 75-43 flogging at Florida on Jan. 22, 2011.
Mississippi State extended its winning streak to five games against Arkansas with a 77-70 victory over the Razorbacks in Humphrey Coliseum on Jan. 22.
The Bulldogs have their longest winning streak in the series against the Razorbacks. It’s also the second-longest current streak an SEC team has over Arkansas after Kentucky, which has beaten the Razorbacks eight in a row.
Arkansas (16-8, 4-7 SEC) will try to get its first victory over Mississippi State (15-9, 6-5) in four years when the teams play at noon today in Walton Arena.
“Arkansas is different. They have a new coaching staff,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said of Eric Musselman replacing Mike Anderson as the Razorbacks’ coach this season. “So nothing that’s happened in the past affects this game.
“We beat them the first time this year so we’ve had success against them, but we’ll have to play really well [today] because we’re playing in their backyard now. They’re very talented and very difficult to beat on their home floor, in particular. It’ll be sold out and a great atmosphere there.”
The game is a sellout and Arkansas is 11-3 in Walton Arena, but winning at home has been a struggle for the Razorbacks of late.
Arkansas is 1-3 in its past four home games with the victory over TCU 78-67 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge three weeks ago.
The Razorbacks have lost three consecutive SEC home games — to No. 12 Kentucky 73-66, South Carolina 79-77 and No. 11 Auburn 79-76 in overtime — for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
The Wildcats, Gamecocks and Tigers are a combined 56-16, including 25-8 in the SEC, so it’s not as if the Razorbacks have lost to bad teams at home.
“The last few home games certainly have been entertaining through 40 minutes,” Musselman said. “Although we’d like a different outcome for sure.”
The Razorbacks are 2-6 in their past eight games, including an 82-61 loss at Tennessee on Tuesday night, but Musselman said he expects a big crowd today.
“I think we have a great home-court advantage,” Musselman said. “I think it’s one of the best in the country. So I’m assuming with the sellout and stuff that we’ll have an incredible environment again. Really, in my eyes, every game has been a great crowd.”
Mississippi State is 2-5 on the road, including an 83-58 loss at Ole Miss on Tuesday night.
“It’s really frustrating, obviously,” Howland said. “You lose to your arch rival and lose that bad, it really stinks.
“That pain you deal with has to drive you to come back and come together for the remainder of the season. We have to bounce back. We can’t let this loss beat us twice.”
Arkansas is looking for a bounce-back game from junior guard Mason Jones, who is averaging 20.0 points to lead the SEC but has struggled in the past two games.
After Jones became the first Razorback to score 30 or more points in three consecutive games with 34 against South Carolina, 30 at Alabama and 40 against Auburn, he shot 4-of-24 from the field — including 1-of-11 on 3-pointers — and had more turnovers (7) than assists (3) at Missouri and Tennessee.
Jones has become the focal point of opposing teams’ scouting reports with Arkansas sophomore guard Isaiah Joe continuing to recover from knee surgery.
“Without Isaiah, Mason is being defended differently in the last two games,” Musselman said. "We’ve got to continue to help him understand — to see — what the defense is doing.”
Musselman said he had a long talk with Jones earlier this week.
“You’ve just got to have patience. You’ve got to read the defense. You’ve got to read how they’re playing you,” Musselman said of his message to Jones. “If a team overplays you a little bit more, is a little more aggressive, then maybe you’ve got to work to get back-door cuts.
“So you’ve got to kind of change your game a little bit. But look, this is a learning experience for a player to be the focal point of the opposing defense. It’s different. And every coach has a different philosophy on how they approach game plans.”
Musselman said he watched Georgia Tech’s 64-58 upset of No. 5 Louisville on Wednesday night when the Yellow Jackets held Cardinals star junior forward Jordan Nwora to two points.
Nwora, who was among 30 players on the Naismith Player of the Year watch list along with Jones that was announced this week, came into the game averaging 19.5 points. He shot 1-of-6 from the field in 24 minutes and didn’t attempt a free throw
“Georgia Tech did a good job on him,” Musselman said. “The guy’s one of the best players in the nation. He sat for long stretches and [Louisville] coach [Chris] Mack tried to help him with some play calls, and for whatever reason, he didn’t have a good scoring night.
“But that stuff happens every night with guys.”
The Razorbacks hope it doesn’t happen with Jones as they look to break their losing streak to Mississippi State.