NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Belmont University men's basketball dropped a 79-71 decision to Wright State Thursday night.
The Bruins, playing without OVC leading scorer Craig Bradshaw (Ridgetop, Tenn.) and Virginia transfer Taylor Barnette (Lexington, Ky.), delivered a courageous effort short-handed, getting contributions right down the line.
Four early points from freshman Tyler Hadden (Cincinnati, Ohio) gave the Bruins an 8-6 lead five minutes in.
As both teams contested every pass and shot with tremendous intensity, an electifying steal and score from senior Reece Chamberlain (Goodlettsville, Tenn.) gave Belmont a 16-12 lead with 8:37 left in the half.
Two three-pointers from senior Spencer Turner (Bloomington, Ind.) in a 32 second span increased the margin to eight, 24-16.
The Bruins played strong, unified defense in the first half, making Wright State earn every point.
Following two free throws from freshman Amanze Egekeze (Lake in the Hills, Ill.), which upped the margin to nine, the Raiders caught fire late in the half.
Grant Benzinger's third consecutive three-pointer got the Raiders within 33-32 with seven seconds left in the half.
On the subsequent inbounds play, junior Jeff Laidig (Mishawaka, Ind.) initially struggled to see an outlet before finding Egekeze.
With the clock winding down, the freshman returned the ball to Laidig, who proceeded to heave an 80-footer towards the Belmont basket.
The heave was nothing but net and sent a jubilant Belmont to the locker room up four, 36-32.
Belmont shot 44 percent (11-for-25) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including 4-for-11 from three-point distance. The Bruins outrebounded Wright State, 17-12, and forced seven turnovers.
Belmont got off to a solid start in the second half, as scores from sophomore Evan Bradds (Jamestown, Ohio) and Egekeze gave Belmont a 41-35 lead with 19:13 left.
After Wright State closed within two, Turner buried a wing three-pointer and Chamberlain scored inside to increase the margin back to seven.
J.T. Yoho capped a quick 7-0 Raider run with a three-pointer to tie the score at 46 with 14:59 remaining.
Belmont answered back. Consecutive three-pointers from Turner and sophomore Nick Smith (Bentonville, Ark.) gave Belmont a 52-46 lead with 13:31 to go.
Yet each time the Bruins appeared poised to build a working margin, Wright State had a reply.
Two free throws from Mark Howell and a layin from Joe Thomasson off a loose ball scrum got the Raiders within 52-50 with 12:37 left.
After Michael Karena gave Wright State a 55-54 lead, a string of three ties and three lead changes over a three minute span saw both teams exchange haymakers.
Consecutive layins from Chamberlain and Bradds spurred Belmont to a 66-62 lead with 5:52 remaining.
But again Wright State continued to deliver momentum killing shots. A deep three-pointer from Reggie Arceneaux got the Raiders within one.
Then after a charging foul on Bradds, forward Steven Davis - 5-for-21 from three-point distance on the season - with a heavily bandaged shooting hand sank a baseline three-pointer to give Wright State a 68-66 lead with 4:46 left.
Thomasson would add one free throw before Turner tied the score at 69 with 2:54 left.
Belmont forced Yoho into a difficult shot and Bradds grabbed the rebound on the next Wright State possession.
But as the Bruins worked into their offensive set, Turner lost the handle and Thomasson delivered a scoop and score to put Wright State ahead, 71-69, with 2:19 left.
Turner would then miss a deep three-pointer for the lead.
The Bruins dug in defensively, before Yoho sank a deep, contested, end-of-shot-clock three-pointer with 1:24 to go to inch the Raider lead to 74-69.
Chamberlain got Belmont within 74-71 with 1:13 left, but Wright State had one final heartbreaking shot.
Chrishawn Hopkins made a twisting, off-balance bank shot with 42 seconds remaining to push the margin back to five.
Wright State made three free throws in the final 31 seconds to provide the final margin.
All told, Belmont shot 44 percent (22-of-50) from the field - including 10-for-27 from three-point distance.
Wright State shot 63 percent from the field in the second half, including 10-for-15 from three-point distance for the game.
Turner led three Bruins in double figures with a career-high 23 points. Chamberlain had 18 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Bradds had 11 points and five rebounds.
Yoho led Wright State (6-4) with 16 points.
Belmont (7-3) returns to game action Tuesday, Dec. 16 at VCU. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. CT.
The game will be broadcast live on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and ESPN GamePlan.
NOTE: Belmont which had won 59 of its last 61 home games over the last four-plus seasons, drops consecutive home games for the first time since Dec. 2009.