In perhaps the most brilliant performance of his career, senior forward Blake Jenkins notched a career-high 25 points to silence what has become Belmont’s most spirited rival in a 99-96 victory over Murray State.
“We really wanted to establish ourselves at practice this week, and that carried over to tonight’s game,” Jenkins said. “We had to find a way to win.”
Belmont jumped to an early 11-4 lead as Jenkins completed four jumpers in the game’s opening four minutes.
While the Bruin offensive machine rolled on, the Racers’ only response would come from the three-point shooting of Murray’s lone senior starter, Dexter Fields.
With the assistance of Craig Bradshaw and Drew Windler, Jenkins continued to lead Belmont over Murray State as the Bruins held a double digit lead until MSU’s freshman Cameron Payne completed a 6-0 run to cut Belmont’s lead to nine points.
JJ Mann, who had been relatively silent on the offensive side for most of the half answered with a two of his own only to be shot back by Murray State’s TJ Sapp with a dunk and free throw.
From there, the lead would bounce back and forth as Sapp and Payne began to warm up as Jenkins fell a point shy from his season high in the first half alone.
A Caleb Chowbay steal and breakaway tied the contest at 45 apiece, but with 15.9 seconds to go in the half, a Jeff Laidig foul allowed Racer Jonathan Fairell to step to the line with two unsuccessful free throw attempts.
Entering the locker room, Belmont shot 67 percent from the three, and 17-29 overall.
Jenkins reached the 20 point mark with a dunk early in the second half, allowing Belmont to once again jump to an early 53-48 lead.
The Racers briefly came back as Jarvis Williams completed a 6-1 run five minutes into the half, setting the tone for what would continue to be a very gritty contest.
“You know, last year we were blowing people out. We’re just a different team this year, we gotta grind it out,” Jenkins said.
In response, a clutch Bradshaw three sent the Bruins on a ten-point run, forcing a Murray State timeout as Belmont led 73-63 amongst an electric Belmont faithful.
“We had a great crowd, and the crowd’s energy really helped us,” Jenkins said.
That run sustained Belmont for the rest of the half as Murray State found themselves in both foul trouble and the Bruins’ unquenchable thirst for victory.
While Jenkins fouled out with mere seconds remaining, a failed three attempt by Murray State to send the game into overtime allowed Belmont to earn their ninth conference win, handing the Racers their second OVC loss.
Mann finished the night with 25 points while Bradshaw nearly tied a career-high with 22 points. Drew Windler completed his second career double double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Belmont returns to the hardwood this Saturday against Austin Peay. Tipoff is slated for 4:00 p.m.