by Benny Benton
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Barton College men's basketball head coach Ron Lievense said playing the University of North Carolina in Friday's exhibition match was "humbling." Senior guard Matt Woods called it "an honor."
While everyone on BC's team showed the respect and reverence due one of the nation's premier programs, they also weren't going to be intimidated by the defending NCAA Division I national champions.
As Barton newcomer Bobby Stenborg summed it up the challenge, "it's just basketball."
That attitude permeated Friday's contest in the Dean Smith Center, which resulted in a 91-80 win for the ninth-ranked Tar Heels.
"We were actually out to win, but Carolina is an awfully good team," Woods said. "I thought we played really hard. We competed. That was our goal coming into the game. We didn't back down. The new guys got good experience. We're young but really talented. I think we can win in different ways. This just showed the Barton community what we can do."
One of those BC newcomers was Stenborg, a junior transfer from Brunswick Community College. The 6-5 forward from Garner, N.C. battled Tar Heel big men six inches taller than him all night, but Stenborg still came away with a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds.
"Coach always says it's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog," Stenborg said. "You just have to buy into Barton basketball. You can't make any excuses."
Stenborg set the tone early when he drove inside against UNC's big men and scored a layup on a beautiful behind-the-back dribble, putting the Bulldogs up 6-2.
"Bobby did a tremendous job of driving the basketball tonight," Lievense said. "I thought his tenacity showed all over the court."
Barton led as late as the 10:52 mark of the first half after Michael Boykin made a 3-pointer to put the Bulldogs up 22-21. With the score tied at 24-all, UNC went on a run to pull away to a nine point lead, but Boykin drained two more 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to pull Barton back within three at 37-34 with 5:56 left in the half.
Boykin finished the game with 13 points, 11 of those in the first half.
UNC finally pulled away in the final four minutes, outscoring Barton 17-3 over that span to take a 56-39 lead into intermission.
The Tar Heel lead grew to 20 early in the second period and reached 21 at 81-60 with five minutes left in the game, but Woods drained consecutive 3-pointers to spark a rally by the Bulldogs to the final margin of 11.
Woods made four 3-pointers in his 13-point night. Jeff Gordon also recorded 13 points for the Bulldogs, and also pulled down six rebounds. Freshman Isaiah Reddish added eight points in just 14 minutes of playing time.
"Carolina is such a tremendous program," Lievense said. "I thought their defense was tremendous, I thought their work on the boards was tremendous, especially in the first half, and created a lot of problems for us. But overall, I was very proud of our guys. I thought our kids fought and fought and fought, really showed the Barton spirit and toughness. I was really proud of what they did tonight.
"We're tremendously thankful that Carolina played us and gave our guys this opportunity that they will remember for the rest of their lives."