1. Belmont and Murray State have been the class of the Ohio Valley Conference so it was good to see an ESPNU crew on hand at the Curb Event Center tonight. The Racers started the night cold missing 8 of their first 9 field goal attempts but was able to haul in 8 early offensive rebounds to build a 10-5 lead going into the first media timeout. After Belmont made six of eight field goals, including four straight triples, building a 25-20 lead, they went on a 3:32 scoring drought, making only one of their last eight shots of the half. During this stretch, the Racers went on a 12-3 run to close the half with a 32-28 lead.
2. Murray State shot only 37 percent for the first half but was able to stay in the game thanks to a 26 to 12 rebounding advantage, including 11 offensive boards that created 10 second-chance points. On the other hand, Belmont had zero offensive boards, and, in summation, zero second-chance points in the half. The Bruins may have struggled on the glass, despite a good amount of the Racer misses coming on layups that caromed back into their arms, but were able to hold the OVC’s leading scorer Jonathan Stark to four on two of eight shooting. Stark, finished the night with 19 points, a tick below his season average, but shot 8 of 21 from the field. The Bruins turned the rebounding advantage in the second half, edging the Racers 20-12 on the boards, with 7 of them being on the offensive end thus resulting in 11 second-chance points.
3. Two more important bagels for the Bruins in the first half. Senior forward and leading scorer Amanze Egekeze went scoreless, only attempting two shots despite playing every minute of the half. This marks the second time this season that Egekeze was held scoreless in the first period. The first coming in a 69-54 loss at Lipscomb, where Egekeze finished with three points. Egekeze would finally get on the board with 16:05 left in the game knocking down a three to put Belmont up 41-40, but that would be his lone basket of the game. The other bagel of note came in the form of zero first-half free attempts for the Bruins. Murray State only attempted four of their own, making two, so it evened out the glaring statistic. The 14 attempted threes and limited attacks on the basket surely played a role in the lack of visits to the charity stripe. The Bruins would go on to shoot 7 of 9 from the line in the second frame, while the Racers shot 5 of 8, and 7 of 12 on the night.
4. Dylan Windler came out firing in the second half. The junior forward and the teams leading scorer in conference play, at 17.8 per game, scored the teams first five points out of the break to shift the early momentum back over to the Bruins. 15 of Windler’s 21 points after the break. Senior point guard Austin Luke was equally as good, scoring 21 points of his own. The pair shot a combined 9 of 14 from three-point range.
5. Rick Byrd has been searching all season for a viable option in the post to replace two-time OVC Player of the Year Evan Bradds. Junior forward Mack Mercer might not be able to replace Bradds, but he answered the call tonight scoring 15 points and hauled in 7 rebounds. Mercer was aided by the dribble penetration of his teammates, namely Luke, including a few perfectly designed pick-and-rolls to get multiple open looks at the rim. For the night, Mercer shot 7 of 9 from the field, including two coming in the fashion of a dunk.
6. Murray State led 51-50 with 12:20 to play, Belmont would do on a 12-2 run over 4:22 span, connecting on seven of their next nine field goal attempts to push their lead out to 62-53. During the total stretch, the Bruins outscored the Racers 29-21 to close out a 79-72 victory.
7. Thanks to crosstown and OVC rival Tennessee State’s, 70-56 win over Austin Peay, Belmont moves into sole possession of first-place in the conference, which has become an all too familiar site for the Byrd’s program. Since dropping the second installation of the Battle of the Boulevard at Lipscomb on December 4th, the Bruins have won 9 of their last 10 to sit at 14-6 overall and 6-1 in the OVC. The Bruins now turn their attention to Saturday evening visit from the same Governors team that they were looking next to in the standings when the night started.