The Penn basketball team started three freshmen against North Carolina tonight, and the result was almost predictable - a runaway 106-71 win for the No. 1 team in the nation.

Before a sellout crowd of 8,722 at the Palestra, the Tar Heels headed to an easy victory by outscoring the Quakers, 15-6, to start the second half. With just over 15 minutes remaining in the game, the visitors were up by 69-48.

Penn (2-7) simply was ill-equipped to deal with a battle-tested North Carolina squad coming off road wins against Ohio State (66-55) and Kentucky (86-77).

It was the seventh meeting between North Carolina and Penn - but only the second regular-season get-together since 1948.

Penn, which got blown out in a 102-64 loss at North Carolina last January, hadn't come out on top against the Tar Heels since taking a 72-71 decision on its way to the 1979 NCAA Final Four.

North Carolina improved to 8-0 and is 5-2 all-time against Penn.

Back in town for the first time as a college player was the Tar Heels' Wayne Ellington, the 6-foot-4 sophomore guard who starred at Episcopal Academy. Ellington, who entered the game averaging 18.0 points, received a nice welcome upon his introduction before tip-off.

Ellington did not have one of his better games, as he finished with 13 points on 5-for-14 shooting.

Tyler Hansbrough, a 6-9 forward who is the Tar Heels' leading scorer (20.3 points per game) and rebounder (9.6 per game), had 17 points at halftime, while Penn freshman Tyler Bernardini notched 16 on 8-for-9 shooting.

Hansbrough led all scorers with 29 points. Bernardini finished with 26. Brian Grandieri tallied 17 for the Quakers.

Before tonight, Penn had never hosted a top-ranked team at the Palestra. It was only the third time in school history the Quakers faced a No. 1 opponent on any basketball court.

The first time was a 93-60 loss at Massachusetts in January 1995. More recently, the Quakers fell at Duke, 72-59, when the Blue Devils were atop the polls in December 2005.

Tonight's game started out as if the outcome would be more like Penn's outing against Duke two years ago.

With fans dressed in Carolina blue sprinkled liberally throughout the arena, the Tar Heels received nine points from Hansbrough as they got out to a 15-11 lead. Hansbrough had three dunks among his early baskets.

Bernardini scored the Quakers' first six points. Penn, however, was not fluid with its half-court offense as North Carolina applied pressure, then looked to run after missed or made shots.

Ellington played only the first three minutes before being replaced, as Tar Heels coach Roy Williams went to his bench early and often. No doubt, part of the Hall of Fame coach's plan was to keep fresh players on the court to stay in the Quakers' faces.

When Tar Heels point guard Ty Lawson went to the bench after his second foul with less than 12 minutes remaining in the half, his team was ahead by 23-17. And after a three-point jumper from the left corner by Penn forward Andreas Schreiber, the Quakers' deficit was 27-22 with 7:58 left.

Ellington did not score his first point until making a free throw with less than seven minutes showing on the clock. But his teammates were doing enough to build a 40-30 advantage, and North Carolina led by 50-37 at intermission.

Contact staff writer Kevin Tatum at 215-854-2583 or ktatum@phillynews.com.