By Joe Whalen
A series of question marks lurked in the mind of K.C. Moultrie, a fourth-year starter in Montana State University-Northern's backcourt, as the senior entered his final season of college basketball several weeks ago.
But Saturday night in the Northern Invitational, Moultrie found all the right answers. The tenacious wing guard scored 20 points against the only team to beat Northern this season, Dickinson State University (N.D.), and added two assists and two rebounds as the Lights defeated the Blue Hawks 84-71 in Havre.
"I've been struggling with the adjustment of a new coach, a new system and a new program," Moultrie said. "I personally feel like tonight was a breakout performance. Things finally came together for me.I just want to keep riding the wave and playing like my talent dictates."
Moultrie, who went 11-of-12 from the foul line, converted several key baskets, including a three-pointer from the right corner that gave the Lights a 62-60 lead midway through the second half. With the score tied at 64 less than two minutes later, Moultrie drew a blocking foul on Dickinson guard Jayden Olson and sank both free throws to give Northern the lead for good.
"It was very important for us to win tonight," Moultrie said. "We went down there and lost. So when they came back here, we felt we had something to prove. We felt like we had to atone for that loss."
But it was a shot Moultrie missed on his most aggressive drive of the night that sealed the outcome. With about four minutes left in the second half and Northern holding a 73-70 lead, Moultrie rushed from the perimeter straight to the low post and went up against Wayne Heckaman, Dickinson's 6-foot-9 center. The ball clanged off the rim, but it was the contact between the players that mattered the most.
Called for his fifth foul, Heckaman, the Blue Hawks' leading scorer, headed to the bench. The Dickinson senior had scored 13 points in the first half before being tagged with his third and fourth fouls shortly after intermission. With the absence of Heckaman, who failed to score in the second half, the Lights (4-1) went on a 10-1 run to punctuate the victory.
"That was key," Northern coach Brian Harrell said of Heckaman's departure. "The reason they got into foul trouble was because we were trying to take it at them in the paint."
Further testament to the Lights' resilience arrived in the form of Moultrie's backcourt mate, Jermaine Walton, a senior point guard who finished with 22 points and five assists. After the Lights' 116-113 overtime loss Nov. 5 to the Blue Hawks (3-2), Walton felt his sub-par performance had played a pivotal role in the defeat.
"The last time we played them, I hurt the team," Walton said. "I was missing layups, I wasn't focused, and I let my man score on me. I felt like I was a liability on defense. But tonight I was real focused. I was ready to go. Ever since we lost to them, I've been thinking about this game."
Northern also received standout efforts from senior post players E.J. Little (16 points), Josh Hays (13) and Faheem Nelson (8). Junior forward Uros Mirkovic grabbed a game-high eight rebounds.
If Moultrie stole Saturday's show, shooting guard Jeff Graham took center stage Friday night. The freshman from Chester scored 23 points in the Lights' 110-80 victory over Concordia College (Edmonton, Alberta), hitting seven-of-14 three-point attempts.
"The kid can shoot the ball. There's no question about that," Concordia coach Chris Nicol said of Graham. "He's a great player. I'm sure he must be real useful to these guys. Brian must be real happy to have him."