By Gregg Ellis
ATLANTA - You saw how Mississippi State played Kentucky on Friday afternoon.
It was an inspiring, all-out effort with a purpose.
Then there was Saturday's play against Arkansas. Talk about a night-and-day difference.
Inspiring? No. An all-out effort? Nope.
It was as if the Bulldogs had already had an NCAA Tournament bid locked up.
Well, it does appear a bid is locked up, alright. An NIT bid, that is.
Saturday afternoon in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome, Arkansas made its own post-season statement with an 81-72 win.
The Razorbacks, who improved to 21-12 overall, dominated inside and out, mainly by silencing the tandem of Jamont Gordon and Charles Rhodes.
The two All-SEC standouts were a combined 3 of 18 from the floor, with Rhodes missing all five of his attempts.
"I thought they played with more of a will than we played with," MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. "We just weren't as sharp as we had been. That's one of those things as a coach you scratch your head about and wonder why. But that's the way it was. Give Arkansas credit. I thought they played awfully well and made plays when they had to make plays."
Most of the Razorbacks' plays came in the second half.
The Bulldogs led 40-39 at the break, but Arkansas came out of the gate strong and hit 10 of its first 12 buckets to claim a 57-48 lead with 11:56 to play on back-to-back drives by Gary Ervin.
State never recovered from the surge or its slow start, while the Razorbacks continued to pound away as they built as much as a 16-point advantage.
"I really don't know what to say," said Rhodes, who finished with eight points and nine rebounds. "We had our chances, and we blew it at the end.
"We just didn't play as well as we're used to, and that's just a bad feeling when everyone is on the same page but doesn't give it their all."
After hitting 52 percent from the floor against the Wildcats, MSU was just 25 of 60 against Arkansas.
Yet the killer was rebounding.
The Razorbacks won the battle of the boards 45-39, with 21 coming on the offensive end that resulted 23 put-back points. They also out-scored State in the paint, 42-26.
Forward Charles Thomas, a Mississippi native, did most of the damage with 18 points and 18 rebounds, while Sonny Weems also scored 18 points.
"When you're playing for a championship, you've got to bring it all," said Weems, whose team plays Florida at noon today in the championship game.
And that's something MSU didn't do, Gordon admitted.
After his 26-point performance against Kentucky, including the 3-pointer he hit at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, Gordon had just 11 against the Razorbacks, five coming on the foul line on 10 attempts.
"We pulled off a big game against Kentucky, then we come out (against Arkansas) and don't play our best," he said. "It's a bad feeling."
Stansbury said the win against Kentucky just took all the energy out of his team, especially Gordon.
"If there's one guy that had a reason to be a little fatigued, it was Jamont Gordon," said Stansbury, whose team fell to 18-13. "He played 42 minutes (against Kentucky). To do what it takes to beat Kentucky, it just takes so much out of you."