February 9, 2011 8:51:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Amid the off-the-court distractions, Mississippi State''s men''s basketball team can lean on its recent success against the University of Arkansas.
The Bulldogs (12-10, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) have beaten the Razorbacks (14-8, 4-5) 10 straight times at Humphrey Coliseum. They will try to make it 11 in a row at 7 tonight (WCBI).
MSU coach Rick Stansbury has won four of the six games he has coached against Arkansas coach John Pelphrey.
The Bulldogs also have had success against Arkansas'' leading scorer, Rotnei Clarke, who was 3 of 16 from the field in two games against MSU last season.
Clarke, who was named SEC Player of Week after scoring 36 points in a win at Vanderbilt, is 12 of 39 against MSU in his career.
A closer look at that statistics reveals Arkansas'' dependency on Clarke in SEC play.
Clarke is averaging 20 points per game in SEC wins and just 5.6 in SEC losses. The junior guard is 6 of 18 in Arkansas'' past two games -- losses at home to Georgia and Ole Miss.
Though stopping Clarke is a key, the Bulldogs are aware of his ability to snap.
"When he''s on, he''s as good a shooter as there is in the league," Stansbury said. "But we''ve faced good shooters before. (Vanderbilt''s John) Jenkins is a guy we had to guard. But Clarke, no question, is a guy that when he gets going is a difference in their team. It''ll be a challenge for us, whoever we''ve got on him. For the last three years, Barry Stewart''s been a guy that kept him at bay pretty much."
Stansbury, whose team will be without senior guard/forward Ravern Johnson (indefinite suspension), said he''ll use Riley Benock or Jalen Steele to guard Clarke, who does most of his damage in catch-and-shoot situations from the perimeter. Sixty-nine percent of Clarke''s shot attempts are 3-pointers.
"Arkansas is gonna be a big defensive task for us, especially Clarke playing the two coming off all the screens," Steele said. "Coach (Phil Cunningham) C''s been talking to me about how to play him, where he goes and how he sets up and everything. I''ve been preparing for him during the weekend. I need to clamp down and get on it."
A tougher test for the Bulldogs could come inside against forwards Marshawn Powell, who scored 25 last season in Starkville, and senior Delvon Robinson, who has emerged from being a career role player to the SEC''s leading shot blocker at 3.5 per game.
Renardo Sidney''s willingness to play closer to the basket at LSU is a positive sign ahead of today''s matchup. Sidney finished with one foul against the Tigers -- his lowest total of the season.
Stansbury said fatigue is still a problem with Sidney, and as a result he''ll "settle every once and a while."
Pelphrey said Sidney is his chief matchup concern.
"I don''t know if anybody can physically stop that young man," Pelphrey said. "You try to do things like limit his touches or get him a little bit farther from the basket. He''s such a physical presence. He''s also capable of being a great distributor of the basketball."
Midway through SEC play, the Bulldogs are second in the Western division and hold a half-game lead against the Razorbacks.
The Bulldogs are three games behind SEC West leader Alabama, making tonight''s game critical in positioning for a first-round bye in the SEC tournament. Locking down second place in the West would secure an easier path to a third tournament final in three years, and increase the team''s chances of earning a berth to the NCAA tournament.
"The fewer games you can play at that point of the year, the better off you''ll be," guard Riley Benock said. "You get rested up and see what you''re up against. We want to get a first-round bye. Four and four (in the SEC). We kind of need to make our move."
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