CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The week-long holiday vacation came at the right and wrong time for North Carolina. Rest and relaxation were long overdue, injuries needed to heal, but for a team that clicked on all cylinders a week ago against Northern Iowa, time off wasn’t the best recipe. Or was it?
The Tar Heels finished up the pre-conference season with a 102-74 win over Monmouth as Justin Jackson led the way with 28 points, including six threes, while Kennedy Meeks notched another double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
If rust was an issue, it came more in the form of consistent focus as the Heels turned the defensive pressure on and off throughout the night and allowed the Hawks to make things interesting late in the first half and allowed their guards to get in the lane with little resistance at times throughout the game.
The depth of talent, and length, for Carolina frustrated Monmouth with throughout the second half and a 13-2 run early aided by three Hawk technical fouls – including one on Head Coach King Rice - put only the margin of victory in doubt.
Inside-Out, Open Shot
When the Heels efficiently execute their inside-first plan, the offense is effective against anyone. If ever there was a team against which that approach would be effective, it’s Monmouth, a team with one starter over 6-5.
Kennedy Meeks scored nine of Carolina’s first 13 points allowing Carolina to start quickly and eliminate any prospects for an upset, but more importantly allowing Justin Jackson to get good looks from the outside. Jackson converted his first three and Kenny Williams hit his first as the Heels opened up a 29-14 lead by the second media timeout. Carolina continued the approach, building a 41-22 lead with 6:07 left in the first half on Jackson’s fifth three pointer of the game.
With Meeks active from the outset, the Hawks were forced to help inside, leaving Carolina’s shooters with open shots. Once Jackson got going, Rice’s smaller team could only pick their poison. As the last six minutes of the first half illustrated (-10) and the first four of the second (+12) show, balance is the key to Carolina’s success from this point forward.
The King in Town
For a non-conference matchup on a Wednesday night over the holiday break, a near-capacity crowd filled the Smith Center. With King in town, the fans came out to see the show.
Donald Williams and Matt Doherty were among the former Heels in attendance to see King Rice and his Monmouth team make its second trip to the Smith Center in five seasons. Rice, known for his toughness as a player at Carolina, was visibly moved by the standing ovation by the Smith Center crowd during team introductions.
Monmouth reflected Rice’s toughness on Wednesday night, battling back from that 19-point first half deficit to cut the margin to 50-41 on Micah Seaborn’s near half court shot at the buzzer.
Next Up: ACC
With its non-conference slate now complete, Carolina takes a 12-2 record south to start the ACC portion of its schedule. First up is a trip to Atlanta to face a struggling Georgia Tech team looking for an identity under first-year coach Josh Pastner. A stronger challenge awaits at Clemson on Jan. 3.