The Penn basketball team started three freshmen against North Carolina last night, 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).

"Basically, we had more guys, and they have a young team, and that made it difficult for them," said North Carolina coach Roy Williams, whose team improved to 8-0 for the Tar Heels' best start since 1998-99.

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, has not come out on top against the Tar Heels since a 72-71 win on the way to the NCAA Final Four in 1979.

North Carolina is 5-2 all time against Penn.

Back in town last night 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, however, as he finished with 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting. Ellington did not score his first point until hitting a free throw with less than seven minutes left in the first half.

"I kind of had a rough first half," Ellington said. "I took some out-of-ordinary shots for myself. But most importantly, we played well and got the win."

Tyler Hansbrough, a 6-foot-9 forward who entered the game averaging 20.3 points and 9.6 rebounds, had 17 points at halftime. Penn freshman Tyler Bernardini had 16 on 8-for-9 shooting.

North Carolina was up by 13 points at the break.

Hansbrough finished with a game-high 29 points; Bernardini scored a career-high 26.

"My mind-set was just to go out and play," Bernardini, a California native, said. "Sometimes in big games, you get nervous with the ball."

"I told our staff, 'Why the dickens didn't we recruit him?' " Williams said.

Before last night, Penn had never hosted a top-ranked team at the Palestra.

With fans dressed in Carolina blue sprinkled liberally throughout the arena, the Tar Heels received nine points from Hansbrough as they took 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 shots.

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

It was 50-37 at intermission.

"We came out and thought we had a decent game plan, and we were focused," Penn coach Glen Miller said. "But it's a 40-minute game. In the second half, we didn't make the adjustments we talked about at halftime."

Contact staff writer Kevin Tatum

at 215-854-2583 or ktatum@phillynews.com.