"It's one win," said Coach Rick Stansbury. "But it's a big win for us."
How big, the Bulldogs themselves understand. "It's a nice win for us," senior guard Dee Bost said. "They're a great program and will win a lot of games in the Big East. So come March people will say Mississippi State beat West Virginia."
Beat them soundly, at that. The Mountaineers held a lead only once all evening, and that by a single point at 17:32 of the second half. Even if State did not truly blow things open until the final three minutes there was little doubt in MSU minds how this one would turn out.
"I felt like we always had control of the game," said Moultrie.
As long as he was on the court, the Bulldogs did. Moultrie dominated action on the offensive end, making 7-of-8 shots and 6-of-7 free throws against a stout West Virginia frontcourt. It wasn't all layups and putbacks either as Moultrie showed his moves around the lane for short jumpers, and even stepped out to stick a trey that rattled would-be defenders.
And he did it for 35 tough minutes, too, with only a brief case of late cramps showing the strains. "I'm feeling fine, I've put in extra work so I can be ready for whatever comes my way."
Moultrie's big numbers came at the expense of either counterpart Kevin Jones, one of the Big East's elite power forwards, or more often center Deniz Kilicli who just couldn't keep coverage. Exactly as Stansbury hoped when he saw the Mountaineer plans.
"They switched the big boy over on him, we wanted to isolate him and use his quickness on the big guy." While the other two big Dogs, Renardo Sidney and Wendell Lewis, weren't as impressive on the stat sheet their occasional contributions always came at prime times. They combined for 14 points, while Bost had 17 points with seven assists.
The inside-outside, or outside and inside, success frustrated West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins. "You can't let Dee come off ball screens and shoot open shots, he's going to make them. We didn't do a good job of rotating and (Moultrie) kicked our tails, we didn't do a good job guarding him."
Making a start, guard Jalen Steele joined the double-figure club with ten points and a pair of timely treys. Bost and forward Rodney Hood had to work 38 minutes apiece because State was shorthanded again, with usual starting guard Brian Bryant serving the first of a three-game suspension for violation of undisclosed athletic department rules.
"With B out I knew I had to be in top shape this week," said Hood, "at the five-minute mark I started to cramp up but I pushed through it."
Jones and Kilicli each had 14 points for West Virginia but were a combined 11-of-27 shooting. Jones in particular struggled to find his offensive game, trying six treys and missing them all as the Bulldogs did successfully pick up their men most trips. Guard Darryl ‘Truck' Bryant was 5-of-14 for 13 points, and 1-of-6 at the arc himself as WV missed 13 of their 15 three-point attempts.
"Kevin had at least six wide open shots and usually makes half of them, Truck had wide-open shots and they don't go in," Huggins said, comparing his team's perimeter woes to throwing the ball in his hotel room bathtub and banging it off the rim. "And it's a pretty big tub."
The Mountaineers might have made up for being out-shot 49% to 40% with stronger rebounding in some extended stretches. In fact second-chance points were their best first-half offensive plays. "We haven't shot it very well, we don't shoot it very well, so we have to rebound the ball," Huggins said. "We did a bad job of moving things, and Kevin gets in foul trouble. When he gets in foul trouble we're not nearly as good."
Bost and Hood combined for five buckets in four minutes, and when Moultrie was left alone out top he hit for three and a 13-6 lead. Even after the Mountaineers dropped a couple of treys State was able to keep pace, and draw a second early foul to put Jones on the bench early. The result was a double-digit Dog lead at 8:15 after a Steele jumper over the WV matchup zone they switched to. Jones returned and made his presence known with a bucket off his own rebound, and a three-point play off a teammate's offensive board. Yet another putback had the Mountaineers within 26-24, before State stopped the 9-1 run. It was even the rest of the way to halftime with a 34-32 difference as WV outscored the home team 14 to 5 on second-chance points.
And on the first chance of the second half they tied it up on a Kilicli looper. Fouls piled up fast with five personals called in just two minutes, too. Kilicli used a sixth to hit one free throw for the first West Virginia lead of the night, which lasted only as long as it took to get Steele open for a made-trey.
Cue Moultrie, as he hit free throws and powered for consecutive buckets before drawing a third foul. He had to return quickly as Sidney picked up his own fourth at 13:18, though it was sub-center Lewis making a 47-42 lead with his layup. Jones helped State's cause by forcing some trey-tries.
Even better was picking up his fourth foul at 7:38 with a 52-all tie sending Moultrie to the stripe for go-ahead free throws. A steal-and-stuff by Bost with missed Mountaineer threes stretched the advantage to eight at four minutes. "It gave us a nice spark," Bost said, "I felt the crowd got into it and it got to them." It certainly did Huggins, comparing the cross-court throw by Pat Forsythe to "the worst quarterback you've ever seen staring down a pass."
A 13-2 closing stretch sealed the victory. "I thought our kids the second half dug in when that game got on the line," Stansbury said. He was particularly proud of backup center Lewis for handling Kilicli in the period. "I thought he did an unbelievable job for a ten-minute stretch, I don't remember him scoring a basket and we basically wore him down."
Huggins certainly sounded worn-down, asked if he thought the Bulldogs were a NCAA-caliber club. "I don't know, I'm worried about my team. They're pretty good, we (deleted). They've got three talented, athletic inside guys, and Dee Bost is pretty good."
Off to the best start since 2003-04, the Bulldogs are indeed playing pretty good ball with attention-getting wins over Texas A&M, Arizona, and now West Virginia. "But we have a lot of work to do," Bost said. "Come conference time teams are going to have scouting reports on us. So we have to get better and take care of business."
Their immediate business are wrapping up final exams this week. State does not play again until hosting Troy on December 10 at 3:00.