EVANSVILLE -- During pre-game introductions Saturday night, Murray State's Ja Morant was dancing on his team's bench.
By the end of the evening, Morant's team was headed to the Big Dance.
Morant, a sensational 6-foot-3 sophomore guard and highly touted NBA draft prospect, poured in a game-high 36 points, and Murray State punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with a 77-65 win over Belmont in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship game at the Ford Center.
Morant scored 22 of his points after halftime, dazzling the 10,525 fans in attendance -- a contigency of mostly Murray State supporters. It was the second night in a row that the conference drew a record crowd to a neutral-site tournament contest.
"It feels good," said Morant, who played all 40 minutes and helped Murray State (27-4) win its second straight OVC title. "I feel like we have a great team and a great coaching staff, and also great fans. This is really what we worked all year for, since we stepped on campus. Just to see it all pay off feels good."
Belmont carried a 31-26 lead into halftime, but much like he's done all season long, Morant fueled his team's success down the stretch.
Dylan Windler's turnaround jumper put Belmont ahead 63-62 with 3:52 left to play before Morant scored six straight points to put Murray State back on top. The Racers closed the game on a 15-2 run that sealed the victory.
"I normally play very aggressive, but I feel like tonight I got to my spots and also was able to get to the free-throw line," said Morant, who converted 13-of-25 attempts from the field and made all nine of his foul shots. "I really just tried to put pressure on the defense. They have great players, so I was just reading the defense and seeing open spots on the floor, and I was able to get to them."
Tevin Brown added 12 points for Murray State, which also got 11 points from Darnell Cowart.
KJ Williams hauled in a team-high 11 rebounds for the Racers, while Brown and Shaq Buchanan grabbed nine boards apiece -- leading Murray State to a 46-31 advantage on the glass.
Windler led the Bruins (26-5) with 17 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, while Kevin McClain recorded 14 points. Grayson Murphy chipped in 10 points for Belmont, which shot 39.1 percent from the field and made just 7-of-32 3-pointers (21.9 percent).
The Racers shot 46.8 percent from the field -- 58.6 percent in the second half -- despite shooting just 3-of-14 from long range (21.4 percent). All three of the Racers' 3-point makes came in the second half.
"Obviously, Ja's performance is an all-timer," Murray State coach Matt McMahon said. "At the end of the day, I'm just really proud of our team, thankful for all of our fans that came. It was an incredible atmosphere here this weekend.
"Tonight we were fortunate. We were able to get it done in the second half, and I'm just so proud of our team."