MURRAY, Ky. (AP) — Belmont gave Rick Byrd his 700th victory with the Bruins and handed Murray State its first conference loss, 79-66, on a Thursday night when star Racers point guard Ja Morant was hobbled with an ankle injury.
Morant, who has become a national sensation with his soaring slams and dazzling passes, turned his right ankle when he came down on another player's foot in the second minute of the game.
Morant had made his first shot, a 3-pointer, in the opening minute to get the school-record crowd of 8,968 fans roaring before the injury at the 18:20 mark. He returned with 15½ minutes left in the half favoring the ankle and made just 1 of 7 from the field by halftime with the Racers trailing 33-26.
Despite the injury, Morant played 37 minutes, scoring a team-high 20 points, but only on 5-of-19 shooting. The national assists leader dished nine in the loss with five turnovers.
The Bruins used a 16-0 run to lead by 12 midway through the first half. They kept the lead throughout the second half going up by double figures for good with 8:36 remaining.
Kevin McClain scored 23 points and Nick Muszynski 20 points for Belmont (14-4, 5-2). Nick Hopkins added 14 points and Dylan Windler 13 rebounds. Belmont shot 53 percent to 32 percent for Murray State, which more than made up for shooting just 10 free throws, making six, compared to the Racers' 18 of 28.
Byrd's 700th Belmont win came in his 33rd season leading the program.
The Racers (15-2, 6-1) lost for the first time in 10 home games this season and had a seven-game win streak snapped.