DAYTON, Ohio - - Despite leading much of the way, Belmont University men's basketball dropped a gut-wrenching 73-70 decision at Wright State Friday night to open the 2014-15 campaign.
The Bruins, adjusting to life without ultra-productive 2014 graduates J.J. Mann, Blake Jenkins, and Drew Windler, showcased a new-look roster featuring seven newcomers.
Belmont, among the NCAA leaders in road/neutral victories over the last decade, got off to a positive start against the talented Raiders.
The Bruins made seven of their first eight field goal attempts, and claimed a 15-7 lead just over four minutes into the game on a deep three-pointer from sophomore Taylor Barnette (Lexington, Ky.).
And while Barnette would bury another triple moments later, both teams cooled off after torrid starts. As Belmont endured a stretch of one made field goal over a 10 minute span, Wright State seized a 30-25 edge behind the play of Butler transfer Chrishawn Hopkins.
But consecutive layins from senior Reece Chamberlain (Goodlettsville, Tenn.), junior Craig Bradshaw (Ridgetop, Tenn.) and sophomore Evan Bradds (Jamestown, Ohio) pushed the Bruins back ahead 31-30 with 2:57 left in the half.
Another Barnette trey gave Belmont a 40-37 advantage at halftime.
Belmont shot 48 percent (14-for-29) in the opening 20 minutes, as Chamberlain, Barnette and Bradds all reached double figures by the break.
The second half started a bit disjointed for the Bruins, before Chamberlain and Barnette steadied the offense.
Belmont's halfcourt offense - and the post play of Bradds - worked Wright State's frontcourt into severe foul difficulty.
Two big steals and coast to coast scores by Bradshaw pushed Belmont ahead 51-46 with 13:22 left.
The Bruins had two chances to stretch the margin to seven or eight before Grant Benzinger answered with a baseline three-pointer to cut the margin to two points.
Those subtle - but significant - swings in momentum would occer several more times.
After Wright State briefly recaptured the lead, freshman Amanze Egekeze (Lake in the Hills, Ill.) scored along the baseline to tie things at 53 with 11:44 remaining.
Belmont pushed the lead to 64-59 on a Chamberlain basket and one Barnette free throw. As Barnette tried to extend the lead to six on another free throw, the ball rimmed out and both teams fought for the rebound.
Senior Holden Mobley (Nashville, Tenn.) appeared to stick his nose into the fray and gain possession, but he was deemed to have fouled Hopkins in the process.
So rather than increasing the margin, the Bruins saw Hopkins sink two free throws to get back within three with 5:55 left.
After a Bradds basket, Hopkins scored four straight points to get Wright State within 66-65 with 4:22 to go.
Both teams played with the passion and intensity of a late-season conference game, making for compelling theatre.
Two free throws from Chamberlain and Bradds pushed Belmont to a 70-66 edge with 2:41 remaining. But it would be a series of unforunate turns from there for the Bruins.
After Belmont was unable to corral a long three-point miss from Arceneaux, Hopkins scored a left-handed layin to get the Raiders within two points with 2:09 left.
Barnette then missed a contested layin on Belmont's next offensive possession.
Benzinger would miss a baseline three-point attempt, but as both teams scrambled for the loose ball rebound, Wright State was granted a timeout.
From there, Arceneaux would be fouled while driving to the basket with 1:10 remaining.
His two free throws tied the score at 70.
Belmont drew up a misdirection play for Bradds, but the pass from Barnette was taken away with 54 seconds left.
The Bruins forced a bit of uneasiness for Wright State in the frontcourt, but as Arceneaux regathered a momentary bobbled ball, Chamberlain was whistled for a foul from behind.
Arceneaux made one free throw to give Wright State a 71-70 lead with 29 seconds left, its first lead since the 9:10 mark.
Following a Coach Byrd timeout, Belmont worked the ball inside to Bradds, who had been virtually unstoppable all evening in front of scores of hometown family and friends.
As Bradds pivoted and elevated to score along the baseline, Bradds was whistled for an offensive foul with 11 seconds left.
Belmont extended pressure and denied entry to the free throw shooting extraordinare Arceneaux. But as Chamberlain and Bradshaw converged to steal or foul, Wright State passed long to Steven Davis.
Davis attacked the basket and was fouled by a recovering Bradds with 3.9 seconds left.
Officials charged Bradds with an intentional foul, awarding Wright State two free throws and possession.
Davis proceeded to miss both free throws.
However, on the subsequent Raider inbounds play, Hopkins broke free and glided in for a layin with two seconds left.
Bradshaw's final game-tying heave was disallowed, as the guard was said to have touched the sideline prior to his shot attempt.
All told, Belmont shot 47 percent from the field (24-for-51). 21 turnovers - 13 in the second half - hurt the cause.
Bradds led four Bruins in double figures with a career-high 21 points and seven rebounds.
Chamberlain had 18 points and a career-high 12 rebounds, Barnette had 14 and Bradshaw 10.
Hopkins led Wright State (1-0) with 21 points.
Belmont (0-1) returns to action Monday, Nov. 17 at Lipscomb. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. CT.
The game will be broadcast live on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app. The live play-by-play of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network.