CHARLESTON, Ill. - - Behind a career-high 25 points from junior Dylan Windler (Indianapolis, Ind.), Belmont University men's basketball defeated Eastern Illinois, 75-66, Saturday.
Windler went 9-for-13 from the field and 5-for-8 from 3-point distance in leading Belmont to its fourth consecutive conference road victory.
In a game featuring two of the top defenses in the OVC, the Bruins and Panthers labored to find consistent offensive production.
Consecutive 3-pointers from senior Amanze Egekeze (Lake in the Hills, Ill.) gave Belmont a 12-6 lead seven minutes in.
Windler then buried two threes of his own to push the Bruin lead to nine, 18-9. But moments later, Windler picked up his second personal foul and would sit the final nine minutes of the first half.
Eastern Illinois got within 30-27 on a Jajuan Starks basket.
But consecutive 3-pointers from senior Austin Luke (Rowlett, Texas) in the final 1:23 of the first half gave Belmont a 36-29 halftime lead.
Belmont shot 42 percent (13-for-31) from the field in the opening 20 minutes – including 7-for-15 from 3-point distance. The Bruins held Eastern Illinois to 31 percent shooting in the first half.
Windler led Belmont with 10 first half points.
Windler swished two more 3-pointers to open the second half – and then after a Montell Goodwin score, Luke sank a desperation 30-footer at the end of the shot clock to give Belmont a 47-36 lead with 13:56 left.
After a baseline 3-pointer from Egekeze, Eastern Illinois got within 52-50 with 9:04 remaining on a Muusa Dama layin.
Consecutive backdoor scores from Windler and junior Kevin McClain (Jennings, Fla.) stretched the margin back to six.
Senior Burton Sampson (Knoxville, Tenn.) made a number of significant hustle plays throughout the game, perhaps none bigger than his offensive rebound and kick-out pass to Windler for a deep 3-pointer that made the score 59-52 with 6:59 to go.
McClain and Egekeze then tacked on inside scores to cap the 11-2 Bruin run.
A contested McClain 3-pointer with 2:38 left preserved the double-digit lead, and Windler's steal and score in the final minute secured the outcome.
All told, Belmont shot 51 percent (27-for-53) from the field – including 13-for-25 from 3-point distance. Belmont outrebounded Eastern Illinois, 35-32, and forced 13 turnovers.
Aside from Windler's career day, McClain added 20 points and eight rebounds, while Egekeze had 13.
Luke had a season-high 12 assists.
Goodwin led Eastern Illinois (6-11, 2-4 OVC) with 26 points.
Belmont (13-6, 5-1 OVC) returns to game action Thursday, Jan. 18 vs. Murray State. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. CT from the Curb Event Center. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU and the ESPN app. The live play-by-play of the Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network. In-game updates will be available via Twitter @BelmontMBB.
NOTES: Belmont improves to 7-2 vs. Eastern Illinois, 6-1 in OVC play … Sampson delivered arguably the finest game of his career, with six points, five rebounds and a late blocked shot in 15 minutes … McClain is averaging 13.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in league games … Windler eclipsed his previous career high of 24 (vs. Vanderbilt 11/13/17 & vs. Tennessee Tech 1/4/18) … Windler also has multiple blocked shots in seven games this season.