STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Tenth-ranked Mississippi State was on upset alert ahead of its game against Arkansas.
The Razorbacks have been one of the country’s top scoring teams and the Bulldogs have been slumping on the defensive end of late. And, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, Rickea Jackson, was questionable due to illness.
Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer turned to what he called his “secret weapon.”
Freshman guard Aliyah Matharu drew the start, played 38 minutes and scored 18 points as the Bulldogs beat Arkansas 92-83 on Thursday night.
“She does not lack confidence,” Schaefer said. “It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster and there’s no guarantee what she’s going to do Sunday. But she just really played well. I’m so proud of her.”
Jessika Carter had 21 points and 11 rebounds for her 11th double-double of the season and five Mississippi State players scored in double figures.
The Bulldogs (24-5, 12-3 Southeastern Conference) shot 58% and dominated in the paint, outscoring the Razorbacks 56-34 inside and had a 38-25 edge in rebounding.
The Razorbacks (21-7, 9-6) built a 26-24 lead in the first quarter behind 16 points from Alexis Tolefree.
The Bulldogs limited Tolefree to just three points in the second and third quarter.
Tolefree finished with 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting and had eight rebounds.
“In the first quarter, we’re going to get every team’s best game,” The Bulldogs Jordan Danberry said. “They came out with a lot of energy but it slows down as the game goes on.”
Mississippi State outscored the Razorbacks by 21 points after the first quarter and had a 77-58 advantage going into the final frame.
The biggest issue for the Razorbacks was the lack of production from leading scorer Chelsea Dungee. Having averaged 17.8 points entering the game, Dungee was held to a season-low four points on 1-of-13 shooting. Amber Ramirez had 18 points and hit 6 of 10 3-pointers.
For the Bulldogs, Matharu provided a spark as a starter in place of Jackson. Matharu finished with 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting and seven rebounds.
“I feel like I was ready. We’ve been having a rough couple of practices but we finally picked it up. Playing (Jordan Danberry) every day and my teammates, you just get better,” Matharu said. “I was focused and locked in, but now I’m just trying to lock in on playing better defense.”
Danberry had 19 points as the Bulldogs’ lone senior on Senior Night. Andra Espinoza-Hunter had 13 points off the bench, and Chloe Bibby finished with 11 points.
After being picked third in the league, the Bulldogs finished ahead of their projected total and have now finished where they were picked or higher in the last six years under Schaefer. The coach said this particular group continues to amaze him with the postseason still to come.
“It’s a real blessing and my staff continues to work with these kids. I’m very proud of them,” Schaefer said. “To be picked third this year and finish second is just a tremendous accomplishment. I’m just really proud of what this team has been able to do.”
Mississippi State: After being beaten by Alabama at home last Sunday, despite leading by 13 points in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs didn’t let it happen again. They locked up a No. 2 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament with the win.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks’ inability to limit other team’s offenses has hurt them in their losses this year, and they surrendered 80 or more points in the last two games leading to back-to-back losses.
Mississippi State travels to Ole Miss on Sunday.
Arkansas hosts LSU on Sunday.
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