NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Belmont University men's basketball dropped an 83-73 decision to Jacksonville State Thursday night.
It was a difficult evening for the Bruins as shots rimmed off, bounces went the visiting Gamecocks' way, and a series of momentum swings kept Belmont from getting over the hump.
Jacksonville State, entering play averaging five 3-point field goals per game on the season, made four shots from behind the arc in the opening four and a half minutes in building an early 16-10 lead.
But emblematic of the topsy-turvy game, the final sequence of the first half saw Belmont earn a defensive stop; yet as Windler turned upcourt to score, he was dispossessed, leading to a Detrick Mostella tip-slam at the buzzer.
Jacksonville State led 40-32 at halftime.
Inspired defense and team play got Belmont within 42-39 with 17:15 left on a coast-to-coast basket from freshman Grayson Murphy (Franklin, Tenn.).
But Belmont just could not work into a rhythm, for seemingly at every turn Jacksonville State had an answer, riding the play of Jason Burnell and opportunism to maintain a working margin.
After Windler got Belmont within 53-51 with 11:24 remaining, baskets from Burnell and Derek St. Hilaire pushed the margin back to six.
A Murphy scoop shot and a Windler steal and slam made the score 64-60 with 4:10 remaining, as the passionate Curb Event Center crowd tried to will Belmont to the lead.
But after a defensive stop, an unfortunate rim out at close range denied the Bruins from closing within two points.
Ty Hudson then made two free throws to give the Gamecocks a 66-60 lead with 3:07 left.
After McClain closed the margin to 68-65 with under two minutes to go, Jacksonville State broke through Belmont pressure defense. A massive collision and scrum at midcourt ensued, with Mostella sinking a baseline 3-pointer to push the Jacksonville State lead back to 71-65 with 1:49 left.
The visitors used free throws in the final 80 seconds to secure the outcome.
For Belmont, it was its first conference opening loss in a decade, just its third conference home setback in six-plus seasons in the Ohio Valley Conference, and just its ninth home setback since February 2010.
Windler had 23 points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals. McClain had 21 points and six assists. Murphy added 14 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals.
Burnell led Jacksonville State (9-5, 1-0 OVC) with 19 points.
Belmont (9-3, 0-1 OVC) returns to game action Saturday, Jan. 5 vs. Tennessee Tech. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. CT from the Curb Event Center. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and the ESPN app. The live play-by-play of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network and the Belmont gameday app. In-game updates will be available via Twitter @BelmontMBB.