CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Justin Jackson is clicking just in time for No. 9 North Carolina to start conference play.
Jackson scored 28 points to lead the Tar Heels past Monmouth 102-74 on Wednesday night.
“Just seeing him come out like that is, like, `Wow,”‘ teammate Isaiah Hicks said. “We’re kind of like, `All right, Justin, what are you going to do?”‘
Kennedy Meeks added 17 points and 12 rebounds and Hicks finished with 15 points to help the Tar Heels (12-2) wrap up the nonconference portion of the schedule with their second straight win.
Micah Seaborn scored 19 points and Je’Lon Hornbeak added 17 before fouling out for Monmouth (10-3), which had its program-record nine-game winning streak snapped.
Three of the junior’s four highest-scoring games of his career have come in the past three weeks.
Jackson finished this one 9 of 15 from the field and his six 3-pointers were one shy of the career high he set Dec. 7 against Davidson in a game he scored a then-career-best 27 points. He surpassed that 10 days later with his 34-point performance against Kentucky .
“I just try to prepare myself for the game and take advantage of the opportunities,” Jackson said. “I mean, if y’all want to call it more confident or more aggressive or whatever you want to call it.”
The Tar Heels led by double figures for all but a few seconds of the second half but didn’t completely pull away from the pesky Hawks until Monmouth was whistled for three technical fouls in a 55-second span. One of those was called on coach King Rice – the starting point guard on North Carolina’s Final Four team in 1991.
“I let some things get to me that I shouldn’t have let get to me, and I think it went through our team and then our kids let their emotions get the best of them,” said Rice, who broke down in tears during his postgame news conference. “And North Carolina’s too good of a team for you to not keep your cool.”
Joel Berry hit all six free throws he attempted after those Ts, the last of which put the Tar Heels up by 20 with 16:59 to play.
Tony Bradley had 10 points for the Tar Heels. Justin Robinson scored all 16 of his points in the first half for Monmouth.
Monmouth: There’s no shame for a mid-major to lose at the Dean Smith Center, where UNC is 105-4 against nonconference opponents under Roy Williams. Monmouth’s path to the NCAA Tournament almost assuredly runs through the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference – the Hawks were the preseason favorites to win the league – effectively making this a no-lose situation for them.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels didn’t let up much in their first game in a week and with the Atlantic Coast Conference opener looming in three days. It’s hard to nitpick a 28-point victory over a team that should make the NCAA Tournament, but UNC can’t be happy about the 17 turnovers that led to 19 points for Monmouth.
“I was a lot more comfortable our last game, after the second half (of a rout of Northern Iowa on Dec. 21), because I thought after Northern Iowa, we did some good things,” Williams said. “I don’t feel quite as good right now. … Whether I like it or not, (league play) is here.”
Williams said both he and Berry underwent two intravenous treatments in the hours leading up to the game. “Last night, I felt like junk and Joel felt like junk,” Williams said. “I was just hoping he would be able to play better than I could coach.”
Monmouth: Returns home to take on Rider on Saturday as MAAC play begins.
North Carolina: Opens its ACC schedule Saturday with a trip to Georgia Tech.
Follow Joedy McCreary at http://twitter.com/joedyap.