Blue Devils look to regain winning formula
Not surprisingly, life without injured senior forward Ryan Kelly is proving to be no fun for Duke.
Just like a year ago when the 6-11, 3-point shooting forward injured his right foot, the Blue Devils have lost two of their first three games without him.
Last season, those games were in the ACC and NCAA tournaments and the loss to Lehigh ended Duke’s season with a thud.
This season, the Blue Devils (16-2, 3-2 ACC) suffered losses to N.C. State and, in embarrassing fashion, at Miami on Wednesday that will cost them their No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll come Monday.
The day after that poll comes out, though, Duke will continue with its ACC schedule, which means the Blue Devils have to find answers to the problems that have cropped up since Kelly re-injured his foot on Jan. 8.
That process continues when Maryland visits Cameron Indoor Stadium today for an ACC game (1 p.m., WRAL).
Duke is coming off one of its most lopsided losses in Mike Krzyzewski’s storied 33-year tenure, the 90-63 setback at No. 25 Miami.
The Blue Devils' complete breakdown on both ends of the court was striking. Duke shot 29.7 percent, its lowest percentage in a game since February 2010. Three Duke starters who are averaging double-figures in scoring — Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Quinn Cook — made only 6 of 37 field goal attempts.
“We have to hit shots,” Plumlee said. “It starts with us. Coach has said that since the fall.”
Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon said after the Miami game that the Blue Devils rely on their most experienced players. But with Kelly out of the lineup, other players are charged with improving their play.
“I thought we needed to do a better job collectively, as a team, picking our teammates up,” Sulaimon said.
That’s proving difficult so far.
Before Kelly’s injury, which Duke says will keep him out indefinitely, Duke averaged 79.3 points per game. The Blue Devils shot 48.1 percent from the field, including 42.7 percent of 3-pointers. They also averaged 16.1 assists per game.
In three games without him, Duke’s scoring average is 70.7 points. The shooting percentage has dropped dramatically to 37.9 percent overall and 31.3 percent from behind the 3-point line. Duke’s assists per game average is down to 11.6.
Some of those ugly statistics can be chalked up to good shots simply not falling.
“It was frustrating,” Duke redshirt freshman forward Alex Murphy said of the shooting performance at Miami. “Sometimes that happens with shots that normally go in every day.”
But Kelly’s absence cannot simply be brushed off. He has made 47 percent of his shots this season, including 52.1 percent of his 3-pointers, while averaging 13.4 points.
Since Kelly was injured, Krzyzewski has said that no one player can replace him. Freshman Amile Jefferson, a 6-8 small forward, started against Miami after playing well against N.C. State and Georgia Tech.
Junior Josh Hairston, a 6-7 junior forward, also has started two games since Kelly went down.
Both have shown abilities to rebound and, at times, defend or hit a basket in the lane, but neither has been a consistent threat like Kelly.
After playing only three games in 17 days after Kelly’s injury on Jan. 8, Duke’s schedule picks up its pace.
Starting today with Maryland, Duke plays three games over the next eight days. Two of them, Tuesday at Wake Forest and Feb. 2 at Florida State, are true road games, which Duke has yet to win this season.
With no timetable established for Kelly’s return, Duke looks to improve its offense without him.