Moultrie's big numbers lead No. 18 Mississippi St.
When Arnett Moultrie and his Mississippi State teammates watch basketball highlights, the conversation often evolves into a discussion about the lack of respect the 18th-ranked Bulldogs feel they get on the national level.
''That's something we always laugh about as a team,'' Moultrie said. ''That's why we go out and try to prove everybody wrong.''
Moultrie and Mississippi State (15-3, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) are indeed proving detractors wrong. In fact, the Bulldogs have been playing so well that the `lack of respect' tag doesn't seem to apply anymore.
Mississippi State, one of just three nationally ranked teams in the SEC, plays two crucial road games this week - one against instate rival Ole Miss, the other at Vanderbilt. The confident Bulldogs are unconcerned, keeping their eyes on an outside shot at the SEC title.
A big reason is Moultrie, who has become the team's surprising leader.
The UTEP transfer was expected to be a quality addition after sitting out last season because of transfer rules, but few predicted the 6-foot-11 junior would be among the SEC's best players considering he averaged 9.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore with the Miners.
As a Bulldog, he's putting up 16.5 points and grabbing a league-leading 10.9 rebounds per game.
Moultrie said there's been no magic potion, just hours on the basketball floor spent honing his game while he waited for the opportunity to play with Mississippi State.
''It's just understanding the game more,'' Moultrie said. ''I've grown up and matured as a player. I had to spend more time in the gym if I wanted to become the player that I wanted to be.''
Now there's little hiding that Moultrie is becoming one of the most difficult matchups in the league.
''He goes hard every play,'' Ole Miss forward Murphy Holloway said. ''He goes to the boards. Look at his stat line; he averages a double-double. Most of his points, he's getting put-backs. On film, it's the same pace the whole game. Full speed, not taking plays off.''
It's not just SEC opponents who are taking notice.
On Tuesday, Moultrie was named one of 25 finalists for the John Wooden Award - which is given to the nation's top college basketball player - despite not being on the 50-player watch list at the beginning of the season.
Moultrie has put up his big numbers despite being arguably the third or fourth option on offense. Senior point guard Dee Bost, junior forward Renardo Sidney and even freshman Rodney Hood have more conventional offensive moves, but Moultrie stays productive because of his knack for offensive rebounding and alley-oops.
Listed at 249 pounds, Moultrie isn't overly strong, but he holds his own against bigger opponents because of superior positioning and jumping ability. He also has a surprising shooting touch, making 58 percent of his shots from the field and 83.3 percent from the free-throw line.
But it's the rebounding that always stands out. He has nine double-doubles this season, including a 25-point, 13-rebound performance last week against Alabama.
''Rebounding is always something I've been good at,'' Moultrie said. ''Playing with a motor is something I can control.''
As Moultrie continues to post big numbers, opposing teams have tried different tactics to stop him. But because Moultrie usually scores his points without needing a set play, that's been difficult.
''I'm sure people will continue to be more conscious of him,'' Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. ''He does something that's not easy to do. It's hard to double team an offensive rebounder. ... But he's going to draw attention. Those nights he does draw that attention, other people have to pick up the slack.''
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