Kelly, Blue Devils take aim at Spartans
When Ryan Kelly scored 36 points against Miami in his first game back from injury earlier this month, no rational thinker thought he’d keep up that pace.
Count Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski among those of rational thought.
“There was divine intervention when he came back for the Miami game,” Krzyzewski said Thursday.
That said, few thought Kelly would fall into such a deep shooting slump as his truncated season progressed into the season’s most important games.
Entering tonight’s NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional semifinal game with Michigan State (9:45 p.m., WRAL), Kelly has missed 10 consecutive 3-point attempts over his past four games.
He has only made 8 of 18 shots inside the 3-point line during that stretch, which included the regular-season finale win at North Carolina, the ACC Tournament loss to Maryland and Duke’s NCAA Tournament wins over Albany and Creighton this past weekend in Philadelphia.
As Krzyzewski said, Kelly’s day against Miami on March 2 was supernatural. Having missed the previous 13 games with a right foot injury and not gone through a full practice in nearly two months, he hit 7 of 9 shot from 3-point range on a career-best scoring day.
Kelly scored 18 points in Duke’s next game, a 85-57 win over Virginia Tech three days later, but has scored only 25 points combined over the past four games.
But the 6-11 senior forward, who was shooting 52 percent on 3-pointers before his injury, hasn’t lost faith in his jump shot.
“As far as my shot goes, I’m not worried about that,” Kelly said Thursday. “Obviously, when I just came back, the ball certainly went in the basket. And that happens sometimes, and sometimes the ball doesn’t go in the basket. But I’m confident in my shot, and I always believe I’m going to make the next one.”
For his part, Krzyzewski backs Kelly. He doesn’t want to see him shying away from his perimeter game.
“My feeling is that he’ll be fine,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s allowed to shoot. If he shoots and misses and we lose, I’ll be all right with that.”
In Duke’s most recent game, the hard-fought 66-50 win over Creighton on Sunday night, Krzyzewski gave Kelly credit for being instrumental in the team’s success. It was Kelly who had the primary defensive assignment on Creighton All-American Doug McDermott, who made only 4 of 16 shots against Duke.
“It’s tough to be a real good scorer with tired legs,” Krzyzewski said. “Playing that well defensively, you are exerting a lot. There’s no offense and defense. You have to play everything in our sport.”
Kelly said chasing McDermott all over the court was exhausting. But he is proud of what he contributed to the win, which was more than the one point he scored.
“I feel like I was obviously defending a player that was a heck of a scorer, who did it all over the court, and that was somebody I hadn’t defended in quite some time, especially since I had come back from injury,” Kelly said. “And so that certainly took a little bit of a toll on my legs, and I think that affected the offensive side of the ball.”
On Thursday, Kelly said he is 100 percent physically ready for tonight’s Sweet 16 game with Michigan State at Lucas Oil Stadium. He previously had not described himself in that manner since he returned.
Since he’ll be guarding Michigan State’s athletic, 6-10 Adreian Payne, that development is significant.
“I’m comfortable with where I’m at, and I know I can play a full game at a high level,” he said.
During Thursday’s open practice at Lucas Oil Stadium, Kelly stroked jumpers with confidence. He drilled four in a row from a spot in the corner during one stretch. If a slump is on his mind, he isn’t showing it.
“I think his shot’s going to come,” Duke senior center Mason Plumlee said. “People are talking about how he isn’t making shots. He’s hitting them in practice. It’s just a matter of time.”