Story by Blake Sandlin, Assistant Sports Editor
In Thursday night’s clash of the conference superpowers, it was Belmont who finished on top with its 79-72 win over the Racers.
The Racers held a four-point halftime lead and were poised to claim their first win at Belmont since the Bruins joined the Ohio Valley Conference in 2012, but ultimately fell just short thanks in part to the heroics of Belmont senior guard Austin Luke and junior guard Dylan Windler.
Luke and Windler both scored 21 points and led a furious second half rally for the Bruins in which they outscored the Racers 51-40. Belmont forward Mack Mercer added 15 points off the bench in the win. In total, the trio of Luke, Windler and Mercer combined for 57 of the Bruins’ 79 points.
A key difference-maker in Thursday’s game came from beyond the arc. Belmont came into the game leading the OVC in three-point shooting, averaging 11.8 per game, and they stayed true to that number, plus some. They knocked down 14 threes and shot 47 percent from the arc to gain the edge over Murray State.
The Racers were unable to weather a 19-6 scoring run by Belmont in the second half that left them down 13 with 2:47 left in the game. Although the Racers managed to cut the lead to just five late in the game, they were unable to overcome the deficit. Murray State Head Coach Matt McMahon said their inability to stop that run proved detrimental to their fate.
“When you play Belmont, you’re not going to beat them 42-40,” McMahon said. “You have to be able to execute offensively, score, finish plays and make some open shots, and we just had a stretch there in the second half where they hit us with a run and we weren’t able to answer.”
Despite losing the game, the Racers dominated the glass most of the night, ultimately finishing with 38 rebounds to the Bruins’ 32. Additionally, they won the turnover battle against the Bruins 9-11, but the Racers’ inability to defend Belmont’s guards contributed to their loss in Thursday’s thriller.
Murray State senior guard Jonathan Stark led the way on offense with 19 points and six assists. Stark also eclipsed 2,000 career points in the second half. Senior forward Terrell Miller and junior forward Jalen Dupree carried the Racers on the glass, as they hauled in 11 and 13, respectively. Dupree and Miller both finished with double-doubles in the Racer’s loss.
Stark said Belmont’s defense bothered him at times, but he felt the game was lost on the other side of the ball.
“I thought they did a pretty good job of putting some length on me,” Stark said. “I kind of rushed some of my shots a little bit. I thought I had some open looks, I just didn’t knock them down. I thought we lost the game on the defensive end.”
The Racers dropped to 13-5 with the loss, and will remain in Nashville for what will be a quick turnaround as they prepare to face Tennessee State at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 20, at the Gentry Center.