Updated 7:55 p.m.
CHAPEL HILL — About 25 years ago, Roy Williams helped recruit King Rice to North Carolina, where Rice became one of the best point guards in school history. It makes sense, then, that Williams took sympathy for Rice on Sunday during the Tar Heels’ 102-65 victory against Monmouth, where Rice is a first-year head coach.
“I was almost apologizing because we made so many shots in the first half, because you feel for that other guy,” Williams said, referencing Rice.
Rice was a part of some UNC history during his years here. He helped lead the Heels to the 1991 Final Four and left school after that season with 629 assists, which then ranked third in UNC history.
Rice witnessed history on Sunday, too. UNC (13-2) won its 26th consecutive game at the Smith Center, which set a building record. The Tar Heels, who shot 61.8 percent in the first half, began the game with a 12-0 run and closed the first half on a 33-10 run that gave them a 57-26 lead at halftime.
The overmatched Hawks (2-12) represented UNC’s final non-conference opponent of the season. The Tar Heels begin ACC play at home against Boston College on Saturday.
“You know, it’s been a long stretch here, these non-conference games at home,” Williams, whose team won its sixth consecutive non-conference home game since a Dec. 3 loss at Kentucky. “Now we’re getting ready to start a completely new season and our play’s going to have to go up a level.”
Rice, meanwhile, received an extended standing ovation when he was introduced before the game. He said he’d been at the Smith Center “a million times” over the years but, being back to coach from the opposite sideline, he said the place felt larger than he remembered.
“I swear it seemed bigger,” he said. “It seemed bigger and I was like, ‘Man, look [at] it – did they extend it somewhere?’ … The ovation at the beginning of the game was unbelievable. Didn’t expect that. It was very nice of the fans.”
Rice brought two former UNC players along with him. Derrick Phelps and Brian Reese, both members of the Heels’ 1993 national championship team, are assistant coaches at Monmouth.
“Once I walked on the floor, I felt like wanted to suit up and get ready to play again,” Phelps said. “That’s what it felt like to me.”
The Hawks probably could have used him – and Reese and King, too. UNC used the meeting against Monmouth as a warm-up for the start of conference play.
John Henson led the Tar Heels with 21 points and 8 rebounds, and Harrison Barnes added 20 points. Freshman guard P.J. Hairston broke out of a shooting slump to make 4 of his 9 3-point attempts, and he finished with 16 points.
Still, as Williams put it afterwards, UNC became “ragged” during the second half. The sloppiest moment came when Reggie Bullock, the sophomore guard, caught passes with his foot on the sideline on consecutive possessions.
Later, Bullock received a loud cheer when he caught a pass near the same spot on the floor, and managed to stay in bounds.
“Last game, P.J. couldn’t make a shot and couldn’t do anything right and so he made a bunch of them,” Williams said. “Now, this week, we’ll work very hard on Reggie to teach him what the out of bounds line is. I’ve never had a guy get cheered for catching a ball and staying in bounds.”
Overall, though, Williams said he was happy with his team’s performance in its final non-conference game.
Now, work begins on the start of a new season.
“I like where our team is at,” Barnes said of the start of ACC play. “We’re definitely a lot more prepared than last year … And I think as a unit we’re more locked in.”
Photo: Former Tar Heel and Monmouth head coach King Rice reacts to poor play by his team in the first half against North Carolina. ROBERT WILLETT - email@example.com