CLEMSON, S.C.— Dexter Strickland remembers it wasn't so long ago when it seemed North Carolina was always out of sync and likely headed to a very un-Tar Heel-like season of struggles.
But those times seem years ago the way Strickland and the Tar Heels are playing right now.
Strickland tied his season high with 16 points and led all five North Carolina starters in double figures in a 68-59 win at Clemson on Thursday night.
The victory was a season's best fourth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference win for the Tar Heels (20-8, 10-5 ACC) and gave the program its ninth consecutive 20-win season.
"We came a long way, I think," said Strickland, the senior guard. "And the scary thing is we still have games to play."
Strickland's message was clear: Beware the Tar Heels in March.
Especially if they perform as they did in beating Clemson (13-14, 5-10) for a 15th time in 16 tries.
They shot 47.3 percent (26 of 55), just the second time in six games they've broken 45 percent from the field. Strickland led the way there, too, hitting seven of his nine attempts.
Reggie Bullock had 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and nine rebounds. James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston had 11 points each while Marcus Paige added 10 points.
Not everything was perfect.
The Tar Heels led 64-47 with about five minutes to play before giving up a 12-2 Clemson run that cut the lead to single digits. North Carolina was outrebounded by Clemson 39-30 and 14-8 on offensive boards, something that frustrated coach Roy Williams.
Clemson's players "were going after the ball," Williams said. "We were acting like a bunch of pansies. Some of those were long rebounds that bounced out, and we're standing there watching it."
Strickland echoed his coach's sentiments about the sloppy finish. Williams "was excited that we got the 'W,' but he was kind of upset we didn't play as well as we did in the first half," Strickland said.
But Strickland believes things are falling into place for his team to again be a factor during college basketball's most important month.
"We're playing together, even better. Team chemistry is there," he said. "We're just getting more comfortable. Everybody's having more confidence and everybody knows their role by now."
It was Williams' 23rd season with at least 20 victories in his 25 years as a head coach, first at Kansas for 15 seasons and now with the Tar Heels. That achievement, though, was not on his mind after this one. "Boy, we finished the game about as ugly as you can finish," he said.
Devin Booker had 25 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Tigers, who lost their third in a row and for the sixth time in the past seven games. Milton Jennings also had a double-double for Clemson with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Clemson struggled in the backcourt as guards Rod Hall, a former Laney standout, Damarcus Harrison and Jordan Roper - all starters - combined to shoot 4 of 25.
"Our guard play was pretty poor," Tigers coach Brad Brownell said. "We had terrible turnovers that cost us. We had a couple of chances to get the game in a winnable place, and our young guards did not play well."
VIRGINIA 73, NO. 3 DUKE 68
In Charlottesville, Va., Joe Harris scored a career-high 36 points and Virginia (20-8, 10-5 ACC) celebrated the
11-year anniversary of its last victory over a top-5 team by doing it again, beating Duke (24-4, 11-4).
It came 11 years to the day since an 87-84 victory, also against No. 3 Duke.
Seth Curry led the Blue Devils with 28 points.
NO. 16 OHIO STATE 63, NORTHWESTERN 53
In Evanston, Ill., Lenzelle Smith scored a season-high 24 points, Deshaun Thomas added 19 and Ohio State (21-7, 11-5 Big Ten) used a late run to beat Northwestern(13-16, 4-12).
NO. 25 LOUISIANA TECH 84, UTAH STATE 61
In Ruston, La., Brandon Gibson scored 20 points, Raheem Appleby had 15 and Louisiana Tech (25-3, 15-0 Western Athletic Conference) beat Utah State (19-8, 9-6) in its first game as a nationally ranked team since 1985.
MISSOURI 90, SOUTH CAROLINA 68
In Columbia, Keion Bell scored 24 points and Jabari Brown 23 to lead Missouri (20-8, 9-6 Southeastern Conference) over South Carolina (13-15, 3-12).
After shooting 67 percent (16 of 24) in the first half, the Tigers made 12 of their first 13 shots from the field in the second half to go on a 31-13 run that ballooned a seven-point halftime lead into a 76-51 margin.
Damien Leonard led South Carolina with 20 points.
The Gamecocks have lost seven of their past eight games.