After nearly every shot it hit in the first half against North Carolina on Wednesday night, Monmouth’s bench celebrated by dancing, using hand signals, jumping up and down and running onto the court.
Dubbed the “best bench in college basketball,” and not for its talent, elaborate celebrations are what they do. They’ve gone viral multiple times in the past year.
But in the second half, those celebrations seemed to cease, because there wasn’t really much to celebrate.
Just as UNC has done in so many other games this season, the Tar Heels (12-2) dominated in the second half, winning 102-74 over Monmouth (10-3).
Wednesday night’s game was a homecoming for Monmouth coach King Rice. He played for UNC from 1987 to 1991, and when he graduated, he finished third all-time in assists.
After the game, Rice was emotional. He thanked UNC head coach Roy Williams for all that he had done for him and for treating him like a son.
Williams, an assistant coach at the time, was the lead recruiter in securing Rice to come to UNC. Williams called Rice a “great guy,” and said he doesn’t enjoy coaching against his former players.
“No I don’t like it at all,” Williams said. “But they want to do it because it helps their program and or they want the money for their program. I think I’ll always give King more money than I’ll give anybody else.”
The key to the game seemed to be shutting down Monmouth’s senior point guard Justin Robinson in the second half. The 5-8, 175-pound guard was one of the few bright spots for the team in the first half. He had 16 points on 7 for 12 shooting. But in the second half, the Tar Heels ramped up the pressure on him. He missed the only three shots he took, and finished the second half with the 16 points he started with.
UNC got out to an early lead in the first half leading by as many as 19 points. It’s something the Tar Heels hadn’t done much this season, and what Williams has said he’d like his team to do.
A 3-pointer by junior wing Justin Jackson put the Tar Heels up 41-22 with 6:06 left in the first half. That became a theme throughout the game.
He caught fire in the first half with 17 points, making six of his first nine shots. He was also 5 for 7 from behind the line. He stayed somewhat warm in the second half, hitting a key three that helped extend the lead. He finished with 28 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds.
“For me I just try to prepare myself for the game and take advantage of the opportunities,” Jackson said.
But Monmouth rallied in the last two minutes of the first half, going on a 12-2 run before halftime, which included a runner by junior forward Pieree Sarr at the buzzer from about 30 feet out.
At the half, UNC led 50-41.
When the second half got under way, though, the tide began to change. After a strong layup by Monmouth fifth-year senior guard Je’lon Hornbeak, he was assessed a technical foul for jawing at a UNC defender.
Then less than a minute later, Monmouth’s Sarr was issued a technical foul. Rice was upset with the call and moments later was issued a technical foul also.
“It’s part of the game,” senior forward Kennedy Meeks said. “It got intense between players and they fell short a little bit. It’s basketball. I mean people are going to talk junk and egg people on, but it’s all in the ref’s hands at that point.”
That resulted in six made free throws by Joel Berry, capping an 11-0 run, and putting the Tar Heels up 67-46.
From there, the two teams traded baskets, but the score didn’t get closer than 20.
Meeks played well. He finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds and was 7 for 12 from the floor.
Joel Berry had a tough night. He finished 0 for 4 from the floor, scoring all six of his points from the free throw line. Williams said Berry was sick on Monday and had to receive an IV.
This was the final non-conference game for the Tar Heels before they enter conference play Saturday at Georgia Tech.
Through its first 14 games of the season, UNC scored 80 or more points in all but three games. They have also outscored opponents by an average of more than 20 points per game.
UNC wing player Theo Pinson, who was projected to be a starter before injuring his foot in October, dressed out for the second straight game. Two weeks ago, doctors said a CT scan showed he was progressing.
Williams did not have a timetable for Pinson’s return. It was said to be an 8-12 week injury. Williams said Pinson hasn’t done much in practice yet.
“The only thing he’s done is run up and down and layup and talk,” Williams said. “He hasn’t guarded anybody, he hasn’t been guarded by anybody. He did dummy offense today. I said Theo you go down here and do dummy offense and it’s appropriately named.”