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A bit of satisfaction for Roy Williams

Tucked into the corner of an elevator taking him upstairs to a post-game visit with his grandson, North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams had what passed for a satisfied look on his face in mid-February.

Three days removed from an emotional loss at Duke, Williams had just watched his Tar Heels scrap out a 64-62 victory over Clemson in dangerous Littlejohn Coliseum where a surprising percentage of ACC teams go to lose.

It had been as pretty as a bruise, littered with missed shots, but it was North Carolina's third victory in a four-game stretch that could have staggered the Tar Heels. There was a blowout win at Boston College, a lopsided home-court victory over Florida State and the near-miss at Duke.

With its scrappy defense that forced the Tar Heels to rely on their half-court offense, Clemson had North Carolina teetering, but freshmen Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall made plays that changed the game but not their team's direction.

"We're improving," Williams said in the elevator.

"Coach (John) Wooden used to put what he thought his record was going to be in an envelope and put it in his desk and he didn't get it out until the end of the year.

"I have never looked down the schedule and tried to set where you want to be, but this is a team that I think each and every day is trying to get better. It's what we talk about every day. Let's be better before we leave the court. If you haven't done something to get better, don't leave."

The Duke game did a couple of things: It reinforced the notion of how good the Blue Devils and potential player of the year Nolan Smith can be and it showed how far the Tar Heels have come.

A month ago, North Carolina was blown out at Georgia Tech, a falling-down-the-stairs moment. Then came the Larry Drew II mess. After losing a 14-point halftime lead and the game at Duke Wednesday night, there was the potential for a team dominated by freshmen and sophomores to wobble.

Instead, Barnes provided another personal highlight moment with his late dunk, Marshall further asserted his on-court leadership while shooting holes in Clemson's hopes from the foul line and John Henson showed how flamboyant he can be.

"We knew this was a huge game for us," Marshall said. "This is a tough place to play and we knew it would be a statement game."

Given their choice, the Tar Heels would have preferred to play racehorse basketball against the Tigers but Clemson wasn't going to let that happen. First-year coach Brad Brownell is working with limited pieces but he's already instilled a defensive toughness in the Tigers.

Clemson forced North Carolina to work for its shots, rarely allowing the Tar Heels many open looks. Williams had his team spend extra time recently working on its half-court offense and it came in handy against the Tigers.

The Tigers struggled to deal with Tyler Zeller and John Henson inside, especially when Henson blocked three of Jerai Grant's early shots. North Carolina's strength is inside and at the point where Marshall looks like he's been for a longer time than he has.

If North Carolina had a reliable shooter who could work the perimeter and make opponents pay the way Duke's Seth Curry did Wednesday night, the Tar Heels would be more formidable. They may have that guy but Williams is still waiting to see him.

"I think we can be a really big-time shooting team but we don't make as many shots as I think we should make," Williams said as he stepped off the elevator.

The Tar Heels had what they came for - a win over the Tigers.

Williams wanted more and went looking for his grandson.

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