EVANSVILLE, Ind. - - Despite controlling much of the middle part of the game, Belmont University men's basketball dropped a 68-51 decision to Murray State in the 2018 OVC Championship.
Spirited play, high drama and intense competition was expected and realized, as for the third time in six seasons the Bruins and Racers played for the Ohio Valley Conference automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Belmont had won four previous meetings with Murray State and six of eight overall in OVC play, including the 2013 and 2015 OVC Championship games.
Belmont recovered from an early 14-2 deficit, as the Bruins rode strong defense and the play of junior Kevin McClain (Jennings, Fla.) to seize a 32-29 halftime lead.
Consecutive baskets from junior Dylan Windler (Indianapolis, Ind.) and McClain pushed the lead to 36-31 with 17:54 remaining.
But after a Bruin attempt to increase the lead rimmed out, Windler was whistled for his third personal foul with 16:50 left.
The Bruins also labored to find payoff from solid halfcourt offense, as promising, on-balance 3-point looks rimmed off.
From there, Jonathan Stark began a series of impressive contested baskets from inside and outside, capping a 12-2 Murray State run to make the score 46-41 with 10:47 remaining.
A Windler 3-pointer following offensive rebound effort from senior Burton Sampson (Knoxville, Tenn.) got Belmont within 52-48 with 7:00 left.
But Murray State used a 16-1 run over the next five and a half minutes late to pull away.
Belmont shot 36 percent (20-for-55) from the field - including 6-for-28 from 3-point distance.
McClain led Belmont with 17 points.
Stark led Murray State (26-5) with 24 points.
Luke and Egekeze were named to the OVC All-Tournament Team.
Belmont (24-9) will learn of its postseason fate Sunday, March 11.