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Offensive Fireworks

Photo Courtesy: Belmont University Athletics/Kenzie Baker
Photo Courtesy: Belmont University Athletics/Kenzie Baker

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Behind five double figure scorers, Belmont University men's basketball defeated Illinois State, 100-89, Saturday night in its 2018-19 season opener.

The Bruins, welcoming 10 newcomers, played with poise and confidence against one of the most experienced and talented programs ever to play in the Curb Event Center.

As was the case in last season's home opening victory over Vanderbilt, Belmont got strong early play from senior Dylan Windler (Indianapolis, Ind.) to set the tone.

Consecutive 3-pointers from Windler highlighted a 13-2 Bruin run to open the game.

As the Belmont student section rejoiced, Illinois State stabilized.

What ensued over the next 15 minutes was some of the most free-flowing, high-level basketball in recent memory.

Despite quality production from senior Kevin McClain (Jennings, Fla.) and freshman Nick Muszynski (Pickerington, Ohio), Illinois State made seven consecutive 3-pointers to open the game.

A baseline 3-pointer from William Tinsley punctuated the Redbird tear and gave the visitors a brief 33-31 at the 8:14 mark.

But the end to end action was far from over; with freshman Grayson Murphy (Thompson's Station, Tenn.) running the show and fellow freshman Caleb Hollander (Nashville, Tenn.) scoring from all angles, the Bruins reclaimed a 46-40 lead.

Moments later following a Phil Fayne basker, Illinois State forward Milik Yarbrough was whistled for his second personal foul.

The Bruins proceeded to go on a 16-4 run to close the first half, as two Windler free throws gave Belmont a 62-46 lead at halftime.

Belmont shot 58 percent (22-for-38) from the field in the opening 20 minutes, including 11-for-18 from 3-point distance. 

The Bruins outrebounded Illinois State, 20-12, in the first half, and only committed three first half turnovers.

Hollander led Belmont with 16 first half points.

Given the high-possession game, the Bruins knew a strong start to the second half was paramount.

Muszynski and Windler each scored two baskets in the first 3:38 of the second half to increase the Bruin lead to 19, 72-53.

Illinois State got within 75-62 at the 13:48 mark on a Fayne basket, but more determined drives from Murphy stemmed the tide.

A 3-pointer from freshman Adam Kunkel (Hebron, Ky.) made the score 90-70 with 10:32 left.

Tinsley made the score 92-82 with 6:49 to go, but the Bruins limited Illinois State to one field goal over the next four and a half minutes.

A Muszynski post move and Windler slam down the stretch all but secured the outcome.

All told, Belmont shot 52 percent (37-for-71) from the field, including 14-for-34 from 3-point distance.

The Bruins handed out 26 assists on 37 made field goals and outrebounded Illinois State, 41-33.

Hollander led five Bruins in double figures with 21 points.

Senior All-America candidate Windler had 20 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Murphy flirted with a triple-double before finishing with 13 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists, while Muszynski added 18 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots.

McClain scored 14.

Phil Fayne led Illinois State (1-1) with 23 points.

Belmont (1-0) returns to game action Monday, Nov. 12 vs. Middle Tennessee.

Tip-off is 7 p.m. CT from the Curb Event Center.

NOTES: Belmont has won 15 consecutive home openers ... Belmont has won two consecutive games vs. the Missouri Valley Conference (W, 85-81 vs. Valparaiso, 12/28/15) ... Murphy, Muszynski and Hollander all set new career-highs in virtually every statistical category ... With his basket at the 17:34 mark of the second half, Windler became the 18th member of Belmont's NCAA Division I era 1,000 point club ... He has 1,005 career points ... Belmont's 62 first half points were two shy of the Curb Event Center record for most points in a half (64, vs. Campbell, 1/2/06) ... Belmont is 105-8 in its last 113 home games.