North Carolina dropped its first exhibition in the Bahamas 84-83 to the Providence Storm. Some of the same woes from last season appeared to revisit the Tar Heels, who couldn't close out despite an eight-minute lead in the final three minutes.
Carolina unofficially shot just 8 of 20 from the free-throw line, including two misses by Theo Pinson with 32 seconds left. That opened the door for Ernest Saunders' game-winning 3-pointer with 18.1 seconds left.
The Heels had three chances on their final possession to retake the lead with shots from Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson coming up short.
"They were more aggressive than we were and they made plays down the stretch," coach Roy Williams said in a released statement. "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 3 and missed free throws. Hopefully we will learn from this and play better tomorrow."
Just like in the season-ending NCAA tournament loss to Iowa State, forward Brice Johnson sprained an ankle in the first half (they played four quarters) and did not play in the second half.
Paige, Carolina's leading scorer from last season, was held to just nine points. He also sprained his ankle in the third quarter but returned. He shot just 3 of 15 from the floor, including two of the Tar Heels' 3-pointers. The rest of the team shot just 1 of 16 from behind the arc, continuing a narrative from last season of the team lacking shooters.
Carolina led for all of the fourth quarter until Saunders' shot and nearly matched its biggest lead of the game (41-31) with a 78-70 advantage with three minutes left. But the Storm answered with seven straight points to climb back in the game.
Williams experimented with many combinations beginning with Nate Britt in the starting lineup at point guard, moving Paige to shooting guard. He also used all three freshmen -- Joel Berry, Jackson and Pinson -- in the same lineup.
Keno Burrows led the Storm with 18 points. Burrows played collegiately at IPFW (under current Michigan State assistant coach Dane Fife) and played professionally in Finland this past season.
Neither Burrows nor Saunders played for the Storm last week when they were dismantled by Ohio State, 115-63.
Carolina returns to action Saturday against the Bahama's All-Stars at 5 p.m.