EVANSVILLE, Ind. - - Belmont University men's basketball came within an eyelash of its eighth conference tournament title in 14 years, but were denied in the final three minutes by Murray State, 77-65, Saturday in the OVC Championship.
Belmont, playing without OVC Freshman of the Year and All-OVC First Team center Nick Muszynski due to an ankle injury sustained in Friday's OVC semifinal victory over Austin Peay, nevertheless demonstrated its trademark poise and resiliency leading 31-26 at halftime.
Playing through foul difficulty to junior post Seth Adelsperger (Peru, Ind.) and different frontcourt rotations sparked by freshmen Derek Sabin (Slinger, Wis.) and Caleb Hollander (Nashville, Tenn.), the Bruins weathered Murray State runs and a series of its own inexplicable 3-point rim outs on shots halfway down.
In a game that featured two ties and 15 lead changes, senior All-America candidate Dylan Windler (Indianapolis, Ind.) again showcased his all-court game, giving Belmont a 63-62 lead with 3:34 remaining.
But Murray State closed the game on a 15-2 run behind the play of Ja Morant.
Belmont had a 3-point attempt from sophomore Nick Hopkins (Fayetteville, Tenn.) to tie with 1:25 remaining miss, and Tevin Brown answered with a contested end-of-shot-clock wing 3-pointer of his own to give Murray State a 71-65 lead with 56 seconds remaining. The final score would not be indicative of a game that was within a margin of one or two possessions throughout.
Windler led Belmont with 17 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. Junior Kevin McClain (Jennings, Fla.) had 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Freshman Grayson Murphy (Franklin, Tenn.) had 10.
Windler and McClain were named to the All-Tournament Team.
Belmont (26-5), which won its 10th regular season conference title in 14 years and entered on a 14-game win streak, will learn of its postseason fate Sunday, March 17.