January 14, 2010 10:42:00 AM
Danny P Smith -
A point guard can be a valuable piece to the puzzle for any basketball team.
But when the starter isn''t there or not performing well, it can be disruptive on both ends of the court.
The University of Arkansas discovered earlier this season how disruptive it could be when it played without point guard Courtney Fortson.
The Razorbacks struggled while the 5-foot-11 sophomore from Montgomery, Ala., sat out the first 14 games due to a suspension. Fortson has returned in time to help the Razorbacks salvage the season. He showed Jan. 5 what he could do against then-No. 2 University of Texas when he scored 19 points and had seven assists in a 96-86 loss.
The experience gave Fortson a meaningful playing time before he leads Arkansas (7-8) into its Southeastern Conference opener against Mississippi State at 6 tonight (ESPNU).
Arkansas coach John Pelphrey could tell the difference in his team with Fortson.
"The point guard can make life easier for everybody, and he does that in terms of ballhandling," Pelphrey said. "He can get the ball down the floor and get it into the lane. Sometimes he scores, sometimes he draws fouls, and sometimes he''ll find somebody else. He''s our best chance at scoring, defending and getting a chance to get assists at that position."
Pelphrey said Fortson played well against the Longhorns, but he didn''t appear to be in game shape because he was cramping at the end of the game.
Still, he expects Fortson to settle in quickly.
"If you were to pick one guy who could get back into the flow pretty quickly, he would probably be the guy I''d pick," Pelphrey said.
The Bulldogs don''t need to view much film to understand what Fortson means to his team. All they need is to see how Fortson played against Texas and refer back to their two games against the Razorbacks last season.
MSU coach Rick Stansbury said Arkansas is "a totally different team now with Fortson," and senior guard Barry Stewart said "he brought them energy (against Texas). I could tell that."
Stewart is impressed with the way Fortson gets off ball screens and penetrates into the lane.
Stansbury said Fortson does a good job of keeping opponents out of the lane and creates easy shots for his teammates.
"He''s a guy who can really get to the rim and attack the basket," Stansbury said. "All of their stats and records are totally different with Fortson back. He gives them some swagger and confidence."
The matchup between Fortson and sophomore point guard Dee Bost will be one worth watching.
Bost is coming off a career-tying 25-point outing in an 80-75 victory against then-No. 14 University of Mississippi. Bost, who outplayed Chris Warren, another talented point guard, in the victory, knows he won''t have any time to take a break in the SEC.
"It''s going to be a challenge no matter who you play, so I''ve just got to bring my ''A'' game every game and come to play," Bost said. "When I play against (other point guards), I try to play better so people will take a look at me different."
Stewart said Bost "is a competitor" and doesn''t back down when he perceives the other point guard is talented.
In two games against Fortson last year, Bost averaged 21 points (25 points in Starkville, 17 points in Fayetteville). Fortson only scored five points in the first meeting in Fayetteville.
"I remembered (Bost) defended (Fortson) well," said Stewart, who will try to help MSU (13-3, 1-0) seize early control in the Western Division.
"They are a terrific basketball team and very well coached," Pelphrey said. "They know what it''s like to win games. They have already gone on the road and picked up a huge victory. It''s always tough to win in Starkville."