by Benny Benton
WILSON, N.C. – The Barton College men's basketball team will visit NCAA Division I defending national champion University of North Carolina for an exhibition game on Friday, October 27, school officials announced Friday.
The contest, which is slated for a 7:30 p.m. tip-off in the 21,750-seat Smith Center, will kick off an exciting weekend for Barton which will include Homecoming, the 2017 Barton Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and a 10th anniversary celebration of Barton's 2007 NCAA Division II men's basketball national championship.
"Barton College is honored to be extended the opportunity to play basketball against the University of North Carolina Tar Heels," said Todd Wilkinson, Barton's director of athletics. "We are so grateful that Coach (Roy) Williams is allowing the Barton men's basketball team to compete and represent our institution in the Smith Center.
"Barton has a rich and distinguished history in men's basketball that includes some memorable moments along the way, and October 27, 2017, will add to the list. Having the opportunity to play the defending national champions on the weekend that Barton will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of its 2007 national championship team is a special moment that will be embraced by all Bulldog supporters everywhere."
The game will be the first for UNC since the Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga University, 71-65, at University of Phoenix Stadium in April to cap a 33-7 season by winning its sixth national title.
UNC lost a number of players from that squad, including Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Justin Jackson, but returns several key members, including senior guard Joel Berry II, the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Berry scored a game-high 22 points and added six assists in the title game.
"Our guys will be playing against the best of the best," said Ron Lievense, who is heading into his 22nd season as head coach at Barton. "It's a chance for our guys to go into one of the most beautiful and historic arenas in the country. Our guys will glean a great experience from going up there. We will have had about eight days of practice when we go up there, so it will be a tremendous learning curve for our team. But I know our guys will go in there and play Barton basketball, play their hearts out."
Barton will enter the exhibition off a 20-10 campaign in 2016-17. The Bulldogs return nine players from that team, including three players who started at least 20 games last year. Among the returnees is sophomore guard Michael Boykin, the 2016-17 Conference Carolinas Freshman of the Year and team's second-leading scorer (13.1 ppg).
"This game is going to help our guys mature in a hurry," Lievense said. "We don't have a senior on the team, so we're going to have a lot of youth who are going to have to step up and grow in a hurry. What a better way for them to grow than to go to Carolina and play there. What an incredible experience and honor for our guys, our school and our program."
The Bulldogs will be playing an exhibition game against an ACC power for the second year in a row. Barton opened last year's schedule with an exhibition contest at North Carolina State University.
Barton will be playing at UNC for the first time since an exhibition game to begin the 2010-11 season.
"We have great respect for Coach Williams, the team and the school," Lievense said. "We are tremendously excited for this opportunity to play at Carolina again."
Ticket information will be available through the UNC ticket office.