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Overmatched Monmouth routed by No. 5 UNC, 102-65

North Carolina forward John Henson (31) dunks over Monmouth forward Mykel Harris (15) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012. North Carolina forward John Henson (31) dunks over Monmouth forward Mykel Harris (15) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Jim R. Bounds)
By Joedy McCreary
AP Sports Writer / January 1, 2012
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—First-year Monmouth coach King Rice always felt comfortable playing at North Carolina's Smith Center. The Tar Heels made sure he felt right at home there as a coach, too -- even as they gave his Hawks their latest lopsided loss.

No. 5 North Carolina routed Monmouth 102-65 on Sunday for its 26th straight victory at the arena where Rice spent four seasons as a point guard, erasing a record that two of his assistants had a hand in setting.

"When I walked in yesterday -- and I've been in here a million times -- I swear it seemed bigger," Rice said. "I was always so comfortable in here and, just, yesterday it kind of hit me when we walked in."

Freshman Andrew Nicholas led the Hawks (2-12) with 22 points, including six 3-pointers, and Jesse Steele added 17 points.

The Hawks' 42-year-old coach played the point at North Carolina from 1988-91. Also, assistants Brian Reese and Derrick Phelps started on the Tar Heels' 1993 national championship team and contributed to the previous mark of 25 straight wins at the Smith Center from 1992-94.

Rice also spent the 2005-06 at North Carolina as a volunteer assistant to coach Roy Williams. He received a 30-second standing ovation during pregame introductions from an appreciative crowd.

"Just to be part of the Carolina family helps us every day of our lives," Rice said. "I don't think there's any other place that the former players get treated the way we do."

But after that warm welcome, it was all Tar Heels.

John Henson scored 21 points and Harrison Barnes added 20 for the Tar Heels (13-2), who shot 54 percent, built a 55-26 rebounding advantage and used a 33-10 run late in the first half to take a 31-point halftime lead.

"This program is the best basketball family there is in college basketball, and has done it for years and years and years and has never backed up," Williams said. "I'm proud to be involved ... except for when I was going down to the (Monmouth) bench to shake hands, because it doesn't feel good. That's King, a guy I recruited, and I was almost apologizing because we made so many shots in the first half, because you feel for that other guy."

Monmouth -- a team ranked 310th in an unofficial online replication of the RPI formula, and which is 275th or worse in 12 team stat categories -- was beaten by double figures for the 11th time.

"Guys, we fought as hard as we could," Rice said he told his team afterward. "They were just better than us."

P.J. Hairston had 16 points for North Carolina, which won its seventh straight overall and hasn't lost in its nearly 26-year-old building since Florida State won there on Feb. 24, 2010.

The Tar Heels moved even with Purdue for the fifth-longest active home-court winning streak in Division I -- even if they don't even have the longest one in the 919 area code. Rival Duke entered Sunday night's game against Pennsylvania having won 42 straight at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

In reaching triple figures for the second straight game and fourth time this season, the Tar Heels matched the second-longest home winning streak in program history. They are six wins shy of the school record of 32 straight set in 1929 at the old Indoor Athletic Center, also known as the "Tin Can."

Reggie Bullock finished with 11 points, Kendall Marshall added 11 assists and Tyler Zeller had 11 rebounds for North Carolina. It improved to 2-0 against teams coached by former Tar Heel players, having already beaten Jason Capel's Appalachian State team, and will begin ACC play next Saturday against Boston College on quite a roll.

"I like where our team's at -- we're definitely more prepared than last year," Barnes said. "As a unit, we're more locked in."

Henson scored 15 points in the first half to help them essentially end it. They reeled off the game's first 12 points and were only briefly threatened before pulling away with their big run over the final 11 minutes of the half.

Henson's three-point play with 5:50 left put North Carolina up by 20 for good, and Dexter Strickland stretched it into the 30s when his free throw with 34.6 seconds left made it 54-24. Bullock's 3 with about 4 seconds left stretched it to 57-26.

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