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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas took its newfound defensive pressure to an entirely new level on Saturday.
The result was a frustrated and flustered Mississippi State, which scored just nine points during a first half in which it hit 2 of 21 shots (9.5 percent) on the way to a 61-41 win by the Razorbacks.
Bobby Portis had 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for Arkansas (18-5, 7-3 Southeastern Conference), but it was the harassing defense that forced 24 turnovers by the Bulldogs that led the Razorbacks to their fifth win in six games.
"It's been fun, just because two or three weeks ago our defense was kind of bad," Portis said. "But now, I feel like our defense has picked up a lot, just because we've got more and more guys buying into the defensive end."
Arkansas was 272nd in the country a few weeks ago while allowing opponents to shoot 44.5 percent from the field.
The Razorbacks had responded to a challenge from coach Mike Anderson in their last four games before Saturday, holding their opponents to a combined 41.2 percent shooting (93 of 226) from the field. Nothing during that stretch, however, rivaled the intensity in the first half against Mississippi State (11-12, 4-6).
After tying the game at 7-7 on a tip-in by Gavin Ware, the Bulldogs went 13:22 without scoring another point — during which time Arkansas went on a 20-0 run to effectively put the game out of reach, much to delight of the sellout crowd in Bud Walton Arena.
The Razorbacks forced 14 of Mississippi State's 24 turnovers overall in the first half, and the Bulldogs missed their final 16 shots while falling behind 30-9 at halftime.
"I think we're trusting each other," Anderson said. "We were trying to win games with offense ... Our guys are playing with maximum effort; they're taking pride in playing defense."
Ware led Mississippi State with 16 points and nine rebounds, and the Bulldogs recovered in the second half to hit 12 of 24 shots (50 percent) — finishing 14 of 45 (31.1 percent) from the field for the game.
The damage, however, had already been done by an Arkansas team that challenged the school's 90-year-old record for fewest points allowed in a half. The Razorbacks allowed six points to the Fort Smith (Ark.) National Guard in 1925.
"I think what's more frustrating is the fact we kind of fractured a little bit," Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. "When that happens, you want your guys to come together more rather than spreading apart and I think that's what happened. So we've got to continue to stay together when that happens."
While the Razorbacks frustrated Mississippi State on defense, Portis continued to shine on both ends of the court. The sophomore was 8 of 14 from the field and finished in double figures in both points and rebounds for the eighth time in his last nine games.
Anthlon Bell added 12 points for Arkansas, which finished with 15 steals — including four by Anton Beard.
"That's all we have been preaching in practice," Bell said. "... If we are not going to play defense, we are not going to be a winning team."
Mississippi State: The shooting effort by the Bulldogs was their worst since hitting just 17 of 60 shots (28.3 percent) against North Carolina in 2012. Mississippi State was 0 of 10 on 3-point attempts, its first game without a shot from behind the arc since earlier this season against Clayton State.
Arkansas: Michael Qualls, the sixth-leading scorer in the SEC at 15.7 points per game, started on Saturday after spraining his knee late in a win over South Carolina on Tuesday. The junior played 23 minutes and was 1 of 9 from the field, and he's now 14 of 59 (23.7 percent) shooting over his last five games.
Arkansas honored former great Sidney Moncrief at halftime by unveiling a banner with his name in Bud Walton Arena. The former Razorbacks and Milwaukee Bucks standout helped Arkansas to the Final Four in 1978, and he was a five-time NBA All-Star.
Mississippi State hosts Alabama on Tuesday.
Arkansas plays its first of two straight road games when it travels to Auburn on Tuesday.
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