NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Behind 20 points and 11 rebounds from senior All-America candidate Dylan Windler (Indianapolis, Ind.), Belmont University men's basketball defeated Western Kentucky, 80-74, Wednesday night.
A boisterous crowd of 4,124 from the Curb Event Center watched as Belmont continued momentum built throughout the non-conference, highlighted by Saturday's victory at UCLA.
And the Bruins needed a poised, complete effort against the preseason Conference USA favorites, as Western Kentucky boasted victories over West Virginia and Arkansas.
Surprisingly, both teams labored to find their offensive range early, but a 3-pointer from senior and OVC Player of the Week Kevin McClain (Jennings, Fla.) six minutes in jumpstarted the home team.
Consecutive 3-pointers from Windler and freshman Caleb Hollander (Nashville, Tenn.) increased the Belmont lead to 20-13 with 9:03 left in the first half.
After Tolu Smith got Western Kentucky within four, Windler and freshman Nick Muszynski (Pickerington, Ohio) buried shots from long distance to give Belmont a 29-19 advantage.
A wing 3-pointer from freshman Grayson Murphy (Thompson's Station, Tenn.) gave Belmont a 42-28 halftime lead.
Belmont shot 52 percent (17-for-33) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including 7-for-14 from 3-point distance. Meanwhile, the Bruins limited Western Kentucky to 35 percent shooting in the first half.
Murphy continued his stellar play into the second half, as three 3-pointers in the first four minutes after halftime stretched the Belmont lead to 19, 55-36, with 15:53 remaining.
And while the Bruins would follow with a Windler layin, a brief dry spell on clean looks against the Western Kentucky halfcourt zone enabled the Hilltoppers to work back into the game.
Two Jared Savage free throws capped a 13-0 Western Kentucky run to make the score 57-51 with 11:14 remaining.
Murphy delivered a timely 3-pointer thereafter, and baskets from Hollander and Windler increased the Belmont lead back to double figures.
Five straight points from McClain gave Belmont a 71-59 lead with 4:07 remaining.
As Western Kentucky attempted a final push, consecutive layins from junior Seth Adelsperger (Peru, Ind.) made the score 75-65 with 1:33 left.
But Western Kentucky did not go quietly.
After two Lamonte Bearden free throws, a missed Belmont free throw and a turnover, Dalano Banton rimmed home a 3-pointer to get the Hilltoppers within 75-70 with 42 seconds remaining.
Muszynski would make four consecutive free throws in the final 25 seconds to secure the outcome.
All told, Belmont shot 48 percent (30-for-63) from the field - including 11-for-25 from 3-point distance. Belmont handed out 20 assists on 30 made field goals and forced 16 Western Kentucky turnovers.
Windler led three Bruins in double figures with 20 points. Murphy also has a career-high 20 points, four assists and three steals.
McClain, fresh off his UCLA heroics, delivered 12 points, a career-high eight assists and four steals.
Anderson and Charles Bassey led Western Kentucky (5-6) with 16 points each.
Belmont (9-1), after receiving national Top 25 poll votes this week, returns to game action Dec. 29 at Purdue. Tip-off is set for 3:30 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on FS1.
NOTES: Belmont has now won six consecutive games in the series with Western Kentucky ... Belmont has won 109 of its last 117 home games dating back to 2010 ... Windler has five double-doubles this season and 23 for his career ... Windler is now 15th on Belmont's NCAA Division I era career scoring list with 1,177 career points, passing Matthew Dotson and Josh Goodwin in the game ... McClain has 18 assists and seven steals over his last three games ... Pierson had his career-high in points vs. an NCAA Division I opponent (8 vs. Trevecca Nazarene 11/20/18) ... Belmont limited Western Kentucky to four second chance points in the second half ... Belmont entered play third nationally in assists per game (20.9).