Even in his anger, UNC still king to emotional Monmouth coach Rice

Free biscuits and Rice arent a good combination as the former Tar Heels point guard boils over following a 102-74 loss to his alma mater, then offers a tearful postgame mea culpa

Photo by Brett Friedlander—Photo by Brett Friedlander
A tearful Monmouth basketball coachKing Rice is flanked by players Je'lon Hornbeak

CHAPEL HILL — King Rice may have had a few tears of joy in his eyes as he received a standing ovation from the Smith Center crowd during pregame introductions at his alma mater on Wednesday. The tears flowed freely again after the game as well. Only this time they were brought about by a different emotion. Upset at officials who called his team for three technical fouls and that same Smith Center crowd for urging their team to run up the score for free biscuits, the Monmouth coach — and former North Carolina point guard — lashed out in a verbal tirade in the hallway outside his team’s locker room following a 102-74 loss to the Tar Heels. He then delivered an emotional mea culpa in a powerful postgame press conference in which he professed his love for UNC coach Roy Williams, the former teammates that were there to support him and all things Carolina. “I have to start off and just say thank you to Coach Williams,” Rice, wearing a Carolina blue tie, said after several moments of attempting, and failing, to maintain his composure. “He treats me like I’m one of his own sons. He always tries to take care of me, since I was a kid. “I am the luckiest guy that in 1987, coach (Dean) Smith gave me a scholarship and it has made me have a great, great, great life. Sometimes I still let things bother me too much, but I am the luckiest man that I got the chance to play at North Carolina.” Rice, who amassed 659 career assists and helped the Tar Heels to the Final Four in 1991, is in his sixth season at Monmouth — where his team has won 38 of its last 49 games over the past two seasons. This year’s Hawks came to Chapel Hill with a 10-2 record and high hopes of pulling off an upset of the ninth-ranked Tar Heels. But they were dashed during a disastrous 58-second stretch early in the second half. It began when Monmouth’s Je’lon Hornbeak was hit with a technical for taunting after scoring a basket that narrowed what had once been a 19-point UNC lead down to 56-46 with 17:57 to play. It was Hornbeak’s fourth foul. Moments later, a second Hawks starter — big man Chris Brady — joined him on the bench with four fouls. That set off a chain reaction that saw guard Josh James, then Rice, also get slapped with technicals. Joel Berry made all six of the technical free throws to spark a 15-2 UNC run that all but ended any hopes of a Monmouth comeback. Afterward, Rice made a thinly veiled reference to the officials’ role in the final 28-point margin by saying that the Tar Heels are “not that much better than us … but if I say something I’ll get suspended.” As upset as he was with the officiating crew of Les Jones, Doug Simons and Jeb Hartness, Rice also acknowledged his own role in his team’s downfall. “Sometimes you just have to write it as a learning experience,” he said. “I have to become a better coach and not let other people on the court besides the players affect me so much. I am working on it extra hard and when I get that part down my team is going to be a lot better. “I feel bad for my kids because I think I complained so much, it kind of permeated through my team and then my kids acted in a way they usually don’t.” The technicals, however, only got Rice to start simmering. What really made him boil over was the reaction of the crowd as UNC inched closer to earning them free biscuits as part of a promotion tied to the team reaching the 100-point mark. The 20,064 in attendance began chanting “We want biscuits,” then erupted into one of the loudest roars of the night when walkon Kanler Coker made the free throw that granted their wish. “I am a proud, proud Carolina man,” Rice said. “It should never, ever, ever be more exciting to get free biscuits than to win a basketball game.” Rice’s postgame emotion made an already difficult night even more awkward for the man that led his recruitment to UNC back in 1987. “I remember recruiting him 100 years ago and thought he was one of the toughest kids I’d ever seen,” Williams said. “I’m extremely proud of him. He’s a great guy. He got a little frustrated with the officials and that took a great deal away from what I’d hoped to be a great experience for him.” In the end, though, Rice admitted that he couldn’t stay angry at his alma mater. He teared up again as he praised Williams for consenting to play his Hawks for the second time in his tenure and for being “top-notch as a man, a coach and a mentor.” He also expressed his appreciation for the support shown to him by former Tar Heels such as Phil