Monmouth (NJ)-North Carolina Preview

The Associated Press

After coasting through some of the games on its lengthy homestand, North Carolina appears to have regained its focus.

The fifth-ranked Tar Heels will try to maintain it while recording their longest win streak at the 26-year-old Smith Center on Sunday against Monmouth (N.J.).

North Carolina (12-2) has won the first six of its nine consecutive home games by an average of 29.5 points, but that doesn't mean the Tar Heels have excelled in every game.

They trailed by five at halftime against Long Beach State before rallying for an 84-78 win Dec. 10, and gave up 50 points over the final 20 minutes during a 97-82 victory over Appalachian State on Dec. 17.

Two days later, North Carolina went 4 of 15 from 3-point range and 21 of 41 from the free-throw line in a 99-49 rout of Nicholls State. That performance nearly had coach Roy Williams scheduling a four-hour practice the next morning as punishment.

The Tar Heels, though, have provided sharper performances over their past two games. After topping Texas 82-63 before a break for Christmas, they blew away Elon 100-62 on Thursday.

North Carolina showed little rust following seven days off as it produced a 23-0 run in the first half. Tyler Zeller finished with 19 points and a career high-tying 13 rebounds, while John Henson added 16 points and 11 boards. Harrison Barnes had 18 points, a career-high five assists and no turnovers.

"We didn't want to take a step back," point guard Kendall Marshall said. "Coach always tells us that you're either going to progress or regress. You're not going to stay in the same place."

The Tar Heels will try to continue that progression against the Hawks (2-11) before welcoming Boston College on Jan. 7. They'll try to gear up for ACC play by winning a 26th straight game at the Smith Center for the first time and recording their longest home win streak in 83 years.

North Carolina had a school-record 32 consecutive home victories from 1926-29 and registered their second-longest home win streak, 26 in a row, from 1922-26.

The Tar Heels should have a good chance to extend their run, as Monmouth is averaging 59.9 points and shooting 38.6 percent. The Hawks, coached by former UNC point guard King Rice, shot 30.5 percent during a 69-54 loss at Lafayette on Wednesday.

Leading scorer Jesse Steele, the only Hawks player averaging double figures in points, had 11. Senior guard Will Campbell scored a team-best 12 in his first start of the season.

Monmouth has never faced North Carolina and is 0-18 all-time against ranked teams. The Hawks lost 95-73 at then-No. 18 Vanderbilt on Nov. 25.

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