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North Carolina to make historic visit to West Long Branch

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Asbury Park Press

In what will be an historic moment for Monmouth University and Jersey Shore sports, the North Carolina Tar Heels, among college basketball’s most storied programs and one of the most iconic brands in all of sports, will visit OceanFirst Bank Center in West Long Branch early next season.

The highly anticipated game ever will be played Dec. 17 in the 4,200-seat arena that opened in 2009, as part of a three-year agreement that includes games in Chapel Hill, North Carolina the following two seasons.

Monmouth head coach King Rice is a North Carolina graduate, helping the Tar Heels reach the Final Four in 1991.

“This is an exciting game for Monmouth Basketball and I am truly thankful to Coach Williams and the North Carolina Basketball family for coming up here in what will be my 10th year to play in our home arena,” said Rice.

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Monmouth guard Micah Seaborn drives to the basket in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on Dec. 28, 2016, when the Hawks played North Carolina. The Tar Heels come to play Monmouth in West Long Branch on Dec. 17, 2020. (Photo: Monmouth Athletics)

“This has been a dream of mine since I became a head coach and I knew I could count on my North Carolina family to make my dreams come true again. They made my dreams come true as a kid to be able to go there and represent the Carolina family and now they’re making my dreams come true again by bringing the North Carolina Tar Heels, led by (head coach) Roy Williams into the OceanFirst Bank Center to really show what the Carolina family is all about, which is loyalty.”

The game marks the first time an Atlantic Coach Conference opponent has agreed to play in West Long Branch. With this agreement, Williams has now agreed to host the Hawks four times in King Rice’s tenure, in addition to playing Monmouth in New Jersey.

Monmouth assistant coach J.R. Reid was a teammate of Rice’s at North Carolina and a first-team All-American for the Tar Heels.

“It’s a huge deal. I don’t know of many schools of our size and our standing that can ever say they hosted that kind of tradition, that kind of marquee brand,” Monmouth athletic director Dr. Marilyn McNeil said. “I think why I’m so impressed with their willingness to come up here and show support for King and his allegiance to North Carolina.

“It was a sincere, how can we help you? In this day and age of college athletics, who has that kind of a story? It’s all been about ‘what’s best for me.’ And I think North Carolina said ‘what’s best for the family, what’s best for the branding what’s best for those that are representing North Carolina wherever they might be.’ “

While North Carolina, which has seven national championships, including six NCAA Tournament titles, is struggling this season, the Tar Heels’ incoming recruiting class is considered one of the top 3 classes in the country according to Rivals.com. 

Previously, Monmouth has hosted four high-major programs in OceanFirst Bank Center, including Villanova, Seton Hall, Rutgers and Mississippi.

The game will likely exceed the largest single-game attendance in Monmouth history, was was 4,522 for a game against Iona in 2016. Monmouth had its biggest crowd of the season on Sunday when 3,217 showed up to see them play Saint Peter’s.

North Carolina’s appearance is also expected to give a major boost to Monmouth’s season ticket sales.

 “We’ve had several meetings and we have good minds on it. We want to gain as much as we can from it,” McNeil said. “I think that is part of the idea that North Carolina is coming up here to help King and his program.

“I’m hoping to that this helps shed some light on who we are.”

Monmouth and North Carolina last played on Dec. 28, 2016, with Monmouth falling 102-74 at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 

Monmouth (13-10), currently tied for second place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings, returns to action on Friday night (7 p.m.) at Cansius in Buffalo, New York.  

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