STARKVILLE, Miss. -- DeVille Smith spied a tall, lanky Arnett Moultrie circling behind the defense and tossed up an alley-oop pass. It looked well behind Moultrie's head, but the 6-foot-11 junior cocked one his long arms back, plucked the ball out of the air and slammed it through the hoop.
Mississippi State has proven it can win games without Moultrie. It sure is easier when he's on the court.
Moultrie had 20 points and Dee Bost added 18 as the 24th-ranked Bulldogs cruised to an 82-59 victory over North Texas on Sunday.
Mississippi State (7-1) has won six straight games and now has a week to rest before hosting West Virginia in the SEC/Big East Challenge
"It's still early, but I think we're one of the best teams in the nation," Bost said.
With Moultrie back on the court, Bost's case becomes much stronger.
Frontcourt starters Moultrie and Renardo Sidney returned to the lineup after both missed two games because of injuries. Moultrie continued his hot start to the season, shooting 5 of 9 from the field and 10 of 10 from the free-throw line. Sidney battled foul trouble for much of the game, finishing with nine points and three rebounds.
"I played them until I couldn't play them anymore," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "One of them wanted to come out of the game, but we just had to turn our head and leave him in there. He was totally fatigued, but that was good for him."
The return of Moultrie and the 6-10 Sidney gave the Bulldogs much more size under the basket and they used it to their advantage in the first half, outscoring North Texas 20-2 in the paint by finding open players for point-blank baskets.
Moultrie sat out last season after transferring from Texas-El Paso and has made an immediate impact since becoming eligible this season, averaging 16 points and 10.8 rebounds.
"I'm just glad to be back," Moultrie said. "I wanted to come out and be aggressive offensively and get in a good rhythm for this big game we've got next weekend."
His high-flying dunks bring the cheers from the crowd, but it's his attention to detail that wows Stansbury. Moultrie is shooting 48.4 percent from the field and nearly 89 percent (32 of 36) from the free-throw line this season, displaying a shooting touch that many big men lack.
Stansbury said that's no accident.
"Every day -- I don't care how hard we practiced -- he and coach [Phil] Cunningham are out there after practice working on shooting," Stansbury said. "It's paying off for him."
The Bulldogs bolted to a 30-10 lead in the first 10 minutes and were never challenged, shooting 63.3 percent in the first half and 51.9 percent for the game.
Rodney Hood and Jalen Steele had 11 points apiece for Mississippi State, which went 9 of 19 (47.4 percent) from 3-point range. Bost shot 6 of 8 from the field, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc. Hood and Steele hit three 3-pointers each.
Chris Jones led North Texas (1-3) with 12 points and Jordan Williams added 10. The Mean Green shot just 32.3 percent (20 of 62) from the field and 25 percent (5 of 20) from 3-point range.
"Our shots are going to fall eventually, but we've got to get some things cleaned up on defense," North Texas coach Johnny Jones said. "You just can't let a team shoot 63 percent in the first half and over 50 percent for the game and expect to win. That's just not good enough."