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March omen? Tar Heels’ confidence rising fast

Feb 12, 2011, 6:54 PM EDT

Harrison Barnes, Tanner Smith

North Carolina avoided a bout of Duke déjà vu Saturday. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

The No. 20 Heels watched their halftime lead evaporate vs. Clemson, which raised all sorts of red flags for the players. Would they miss a chance to beat another ACC foe in a brutal road environment?

Apparently not. The 64-62 win wasn’t as impressive as some of the Heels’ other recent wins, but it might be the most important yet. A loss might’ve wrecked the young team’s psyche.

“I’m not going to lie to you, I was thinking about the game on Wednesday” sophomore forward John Henson said afterward. “But we fought back this time. We kept our composure. I think that’s just a lesson we learned from the Duke game.”

Freshmen Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall combined for 38 points. Henson logged another double-double. On the road against one of the league’s top teams? That’s a solid day, and even surprised the players a bit.

“This shows we’re able to grind out wins,” Barnes told the Raleigh News & Observer.

Never discount the road win in college hoops. Home teams have myriad of advantages, and Clemson’s no different. The Tigers are tame on the road, but ferocious at Littlejohn, where they’ve lost just once this season entering Saturday. Winning there is no small thing, even for a talented team like UNC.

Four of the Heels’ six losses this season have come on the road. If Duke provided Roy Williams’ team with a small bit of confidence and a few learning moments to apply to the rest of their season, Saturday was much bigger than a two-point win. It could signal even bigger things come March.

A talented, young team with confidence in the NCAA tournament is a dangerous thing.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.