PROVIDENCE, R.I. - - Belmont University men's basketball had another signature victory ripped from its grasp, as Kyron Cartwright sank an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Providence a 66-65 victory Wednesday night.
In a game that featured 10 ties, 20 lead changes and neither team leading by more than five points, the Bruins and Friars - both receiving national Top 25 poll votes this week - delivered one of the most fierecely-contested and dramatic games of the young college basketball season.
Belmont, already boasting victories over Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee, and harkening memories of victory at Marquette in its last Big East Conference meeting, got baskets from senior Amanze Egekeze (Lake in the Hills, Ill.) and junior Dylan Windler (Indianapolis, Ind.) to take an early 5-2 lead.
Both teams labored to find offense, before consecutive 3-pointers from Jalen Lindsey gave Providence a 17-12 edge.
But Belmont answered back with a pair of 3-pointers from senior Austin Luke (Rowlett, Texas) to retake the lead.
An interior basket from junior Mack Mercer (Plymouth, Ind.) and two free throws from junior Kevin McClain (Jennings, Fla.) preserved the lead, before the Friars scored the final four points of the half.
Providence led 28-25 at halftime.
Belmont shot 33 percent (9-for-27) in the opening 20 minutes - including 5-for-19 from 3-point distance. But the Bruin defense was up to the task, limiting Providence to 35 perecent shooting.
Egekeze led Belmont with nine first half points.
Windler hit back-to-back 3-pointers to open the second half as Belmont reclaimed a 31-30 lead with 17:16 left.
Conventional 3-point plays from Rodney Bullock and Alpha Diallo pushed the Friars ahead, 38-33, with 14:25 remaining, before the Bruins responded.
An Egekeze 3-pointer and four Windler points tied the score at 40.
With Belmont nursing some foul trouble, the Bruins got huge bench contributions from senior Burton Sampson (Knoxville, Tenn.), sophomore Michael Benkert (Greenwood, Ind.) and freshman Nick Hopkins (Fayetteville, Tenn.).
The latter began his memorable second half with a deep 3-pointer to give the Bruins a 47-45 lead with nine minutes left.
Two straight electric drives from McClain preserved a two-point advantage with 6:44 remaining.
With each possession of the utmost importance and both teams playing with purpose and focus, it made for riveting theatre.
The Bruins worked into the bonus, with two Hopkins makes pushing the lead to four, 55-51, with 4:42 left.
Cartwright would make two straight short jumpers to square things, before Hopkins continued his impact with another wing 3-pointer.
Diallo capped a 6-0 Friar run which gave the hosts a 61-58 lead with 1:58 to go.
Following a Coach Byrd timeout, Windler broke free for a baseline slam to trim the margin to one.
Then after forcing a Providence miss, the Bruins worked into the frontcourt and found Hopkins open in front of the Belmont bench.
The freshman confidently drained another clutch 3-pointer to put Belmont ahead, 63-61, with 44 seconds left.
After a Providence timeout, McClain was whistled for a personal foul fighting through a screen.
Referees consulted momentarily, before designating Bullock as the Providence free throw shooter.
He made both free throws to tie the score at 63 with 27 seconds left.
With the shot clock off, Belmont calmly worked into the frontcourt and ran the Coach Byrd play call.
Windler curled free and scored off a timely feed from Luke with 3.8 seconds left.
Providence quickly inbounded, finding its All-America candidate Cartwright, who sped into the frontcourt and made a leaning 3-pointer just before the horn sounded.
It was a gut-wrenching outcome, as Belmont had demonstrated its trademark toughness, poise and execution to gain another national road result.
All told, Belmont shot 47 percent (23-for-49) from the field - including 11-for-33 from 3-point distance.
Belmont shot 64 percent from the field in the second half, while holding the host Friars under 40 percent for the game.
Windler led the Bruins in double figures with 17 points and 10 rebounds, his fifth double-double of the season.
Egekeze had 16 and Hopkins added 11.
Cartwright led Providence (4-1) with 17.
Belmont (4-2) returns to game action Monday, Nov. 27 vs. Lipscomb. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on OVC Digital Network. The live play-by-play of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network. In-game updates will be available via Twitter @BelmontMBB.