By RENALDO DORSETT
IT WAS certainly not what North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams expected when he brought one of the most storied programmes in NCAA history to the Bahamas for a pair of exhibition games at the “Summer of Thunder.”
Ernest Saunders’ go-ahead three-pointer from the wing with 18.1s left to play lifted the Providence Storm to an 84-83 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels at the Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium on Friday night.
A talented Storm team included international pro players Kino Burrows, local products like Eugene Bain, recent Hugh Campbell MVP Shakwon Lewis, and current high school phenom DeAndre Ayton.
The 6’10″ 16-year-old high school sophomore finished with 17 points and a game high 18 rebounds. He shot 7-11 from the field and made his only three of the game, a part of a 14-5 run to help the storm close out the game with a frantic comeback.
Burrows, who recently completed an All-Star season playing in Switzerland, finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Bain scored 14, Saunders finished with 13 points, Lewis came off the bench to score 10 while Jeffrey Henfield added eight points, seven assists and four steals.
Isiah Hicks led the Tar Heels with 13 points, Kennedy Meeks added 10 while lead guard Marcus Paige finished with just nine points on 3-15 shooting.
Ayton has had a huge rise up the recruiting charts as the talk of every media outlet, recruiting service, and has been sought after by nearly every high major Division I college programme. “It was a good experience playing against UNC, they’re a good team, a great programme so it was a learning experience,” Ayton said.
“They’re big, strong, they have a set game plan so we just wanted to come out and give a great effort, and we did that.”
The Storms were coached by CI Gibson head coach Kevin Johnson.
“It was a testament to the preparation these guys have put in in their offseason, they fed off the crowd and gave a tremendous effort,” Johnson said.
“North Carolina is a great programme, always among the top when people mention great NCAA programmes, so for the guys to come out and be able to do that means a lot to Bahamian basketball.
The Tar Heels led 78-70 with just over three minutes left, but the Storm went on a 7-0 run, capped by Ayton’s three pointer.
Following a pair of free throws, Bain made a deep baseline jumper to keep the Storm in contention, 82-81.
Kennedy Meeks split a pair at the line to extend the UNC lead, however Theo Pinson left the door open for Saunders heroics when he missed two at the line following a stop on the defensive end.
“They were more aggressive than we were, and they made plays down the stretch,” UNC coach Roy Williams said.
“We missed a number of free throws in the fourth quarter, and then we failed to pick up an open shooter on that 3-pointer that gave them the lead. We made lots of mistakes, went 3-for-25 from three and missed free throws.”