NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP)—It seemed like animal instinct kicked in when No. 24 Mississippi State was in danger of blowing a chance to match its best start ever.
Lawrence Roberts scored 18 points in the second half Saturday night, including 11 during a 23-6 Bulldogs run, and Mississippi State beat Arkansas-Little Rock 68-58.
“He’s an animal down there for us,” Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. “It’s hard to stop him when he gets going.”
Mississippi State (11-0) overcame sloppy play to match its best start. The Bulldogs also were 11-0 two years ago, and in 1957-58. Arkansas-Little Rock fell to 6-6.
“You’ve got to be able to survive when you don’t play your best. We found a way again to win another one on the road,” said Stansbury, whose team needed overtime to win at Santa Clara two weeks ago.
After Jamal Holden’s two free throws gave UALR a 34-33 lead with 15 minutes left, Roberts broke free against the Trojans’ press for a layup that put Mississippi State up for good.
“We struggled a bit, but I knew it was time to step up,” Roberts said.
The Baylor transfer added a pair of 3-pointers during the run, and Mississippi State was up 56-40 after Timmy Bowers’ basket with just under eight minutes left.
Arkansas-Little Rock cut the lead to 62-58 with 49 seconds left, but Roberts made three of four free throws in the final minute after taking down rebounds.
“There were a couple of times we didn’t box out or something like that,” Holden said. “It was those little things, but they add up.”
Bowers finished with 22 points, 17 in the first half, while Roberts had 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Darius Eason and Brandon Freeman each scored 11 points, and Richard Hardman and Holden had 10 apiece for UALR, a Sun Belt Conference team. Mississippi State, from the Southeastern Conference, played in central Arkansas as payback for the Trojans playing two games in Starkville.
Mississippi State didn’t miss a shot in the first 6 1/2 minutes, but four turnovers in that span helped the Trojans stay close and a six-minute cold spell let Arkansas-Little Rock take a four-point lead late in the first half.
After Bowers’ third 3-pointer of the first half made it 21-15 with 8:05 remaining, the Bulldogs forced shots and threw the ball away during a 10-0 UALR run. Hardman ended the streak with a dunk off a long rebound that put the Trojans up 25-21.
“I think they underestimated us,” Holden said. “We play well at home.”
Marcus Campbell ended the Bulldogs’ cold spell with an inside basket and, after Bowers made another 3-pointer, hit a layup just before the buzzer as the Bulldogs took a 28-27 lead at the break.