By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Trent Johnson couldn’t help but notice the smile on Rick Stansbury’s face.
It was October, at SEC media day in Birmingham. Stansbury was there talking about his Mississippi State team and the upcoming season.
“He was real happy,” said Johnson, LSU’s coach. “He had a reason to be.”
That reason: Arnett Moultrie.
Stansbury got a glimpse of what was to come when MSU took a five-game exhibition tour through Europe in August. Moultrie, a 6-foot-11 transfer from UTEP, had averaged 16.8 points and 11.2 rebounds during the trip.
Back then, he was considered a solid player who could help the Bulldogs. Now, he’s the Moultrain, and he keeps picking up steam.
Moultrie, a junior, is averaging 17.1 points and 11.2 rebounds per game for the No. 18-ranked Bulldogs (17-4, 4-2 SEC). He’s played in 18 games, recording an SEC-leading 12 double-doubles.
On Wednesday, Moultrie abused Johnson’s LSU squad, recording 28 points and 12 rebounds. Half of those boards were on the offensive end. His 4.2 offensive rebounds per game leads the league.
I could go on. He shoots 81 percent from the free throw line. He’s made 4 of 8 from 3-point range. MSU is 8-0 when Moultrie scores 20 or more points.
His profile has skyrocketed. Moultrie wasn’t on the Wooden Award watch list prior to the season, but now he’s among 25 finalists. CBSSports.com updated its player of the year candidates on Thursday, and Moultrie was added to the 10-man list.
Could he win such an award? He certainly deserves consideration. A few weeks ago, teammate Rodney Hood said, “If he was at North Carolina or somewhere, he would probably be a first-team All-American.”
Moultrie may yet earn that distinction, assuming he can hold up. He’s averaging 34.1 minutes, and he logged 45 in Saturday’s 78-77 overtime win at Vanderbilt. Moultrie actually sat for 12 seconds, and he finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds.
This is the most work he’s ever had to do. In his two seasons at UTEP, Moultrie averaged 27.8 minutes a game.
At full strength
He missed some time earlier this season with knee tendinitis, but Moultrie is back at full speed. He’s a matchup nightmare for so many teams, and even if he’s having an off night scoring it, he’ll make an impact in other ways.
I wrote recently that State was trying to get him the ball more. Against Ole Miss nine days ago, Moultrie had only eight shot attempts and two free throws. In his last two games, he’s shot 17 of 34 from the field and 15 of 20 from the foul line.
“For a guy to come in there and play at that level at his size, to be able to count on a guy like that is really good, because so few big guys are consistent at that high a level,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas told me earlier this week. “It’s nice to have.”
Brad Locke (email@example.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.