Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski rubbed his magic lamp before Saturday night’s Top 5 encounter with Miami and when the genie appeared, it was easy to see that Krzyzewski’s first wish would be the return to action of 6-11 outside threat Ryan Kelly who had missed the Blue Devils’ previous 13 games with a foot injury. When Krzyzewski’s wish was granted, Kelly stepped up in unbelievable fashion in scoring 36 points as he went 10-of-14 from the field, including seven threes, in a heart-stopping 79-76 win over the ACC leading Hurricanes.
Ryan Kelly was a major hit in his return to the Duke line up Saturday night. the Blue Devils needed every one of his 36 points to survive ACC-leading Miami, 79-76. Credit: Duke Photography
“In the first half, he was so unbelievable it had an impact on our guys,”said Krzyzewski, “We started watching him because we haven’t had him for two months.”
Kelly missed his first shot which was Duke’s first of the game, but proliferated himself when he hit three consecutive triples in a span of 1:45 on four possessions that helped erase a 25-19 Miami lead and pull Duke into a 31-31 tie. He finished the first half with 20 points in 15 minutes as five of those were from behind the arc.
“It’s something I have worked really hard on and they fell in today,” Kelly said of his long-range shooting, “Somedays it doesn’t work like that.”
After Miami forged ahead by three in the first five minutes of the second half, it was kelly who did the damage. His triple gave Duke a 50-49 advantage with right around 13 minutes to play and then he had a pair of free throws and a three-pointer off the right wing to give the Blue Devils a lead the wouldn’t relinquish at 60-56 with 9:08 to play.
“He did everything,” noted freshman Rasheed Sulaimon, “He was the extra lift we needed the extra energy that we need. Every time we had a lull or a dead period, he was the one to pick us up. We were missing a great player in Ryan but we were also missing a great leader, so we were just glad he was back.”
Sulaimon is a savvy freshman out of Houston, Texas, who has been a staple in the Duke attack all season. Some things he says in conversation sound like a coach. He didn’t see a point Saturday night that made him think Kelly would have a big game. That happened Friday in Practice.
“Yesterday in practice - his first time having contact when we scrimmaged a little bit,” said Sulaimon of when he had an idea Kelly might be in for a huge game, “When he took his shots, he took them with confidence and his shot was looking very good yesterday. I knew he was going to have a very good night today, especially with the talents of Quinn, Mason and Seth who are very good players in their own right.”
Sulaimon expected Miami to lay off him a bit and test Kelly to see if he was really up to speed. The Canes’ defense didn’t seem to give him much separation, but whether they did or didn’t wasn’t an issue. Kelly was back and in a big way.
“I knew they were gonna disrespect him a little bit, you know just coming off the injury, and he had some shots and that’s all he needed and after that it was hard to stop him,” noted Sulaimon.
As for the injury, all that anyone associated with Duke would say throughout Kelly’s absence was “foot injury.” Kelly wasn’t in any mood to espouse information after Saturday night’s heroics.
“Nobody’s told anybody,” he said coyly, ” I have some stuff in my shoe to limit motion inside my shoe. The better we can do that and less pain I can feel, the more able I am to play.”
Miami played dauntlessly as the mentally tough Hurricanes fought back to cut a 10-point Duke lead to 78-76 with 31 seconds remaining and even with a turnover, Rion Brown’s three-pointer at the buzzer lipped out of the rim and Duke survived. The story was Kelly’s amazing return, but involved in that was the fact that the Blue Devils needed everyone of his 36 points to survive the team that had pummeled them 90-63 in Miami on January 23 without Kelly.
“The difference was he was able to stretch the floor and I was sure he would come out and play well,” said Miami guard Durand Scott, “He’s been gone for so long so we expected it. It’s hard to guard him. Hes a four-man who can put the ball on the floor. He can dribble, make good passes, and things like that. I think he did a great job and his coach did a great job of using him and that’s why they won the game.”
- Ken Cross
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