Jimmy DuPree: Hollywood couldn't have scripted Kelly's return
If you read all the novels and every encyclopedia ever published, you still may not have come across words to describe the performance that Duke senior Ryan Kelly had Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
He missed 13 games after suffering a foot injury on Jan. 8 against Clemson and still hasn’t practiced a full session with the Blue Devils.
All he did was post 36 points while making 10 of 14 shots, including 7 of 9 from 3-point range in leading Duke to a 79-76 victory over No. 5 Miami.
Need more? He played 32 minutes, often picking up Hurricanes star guard Shane Larkin on defensive switches.
“Really, (he) practiced half of a half of a practice,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Kelly preparation. “I mean, he hardly practiced (Friday).
“We went into the game with a plan of, ‘It’s better to start you, and then you tell me when you’re tired.’ I didn’t go in with a number of minutes or anything like that. (It was) ‘Let’s play it by ear,’ so we did that and 32 minutes and 36 points.”
Just 30 seconds into the game, Kelly elevated for a 3-point attempt — one of two he would miss all day.
Two minutes later, he made his first 3-pointer since before the injury and was on his way to a 20-point first half.
When Kelly hit his fifth 3-pointer, he looked to the Duke bench and raised his arms in a scene reminiscent of Michael Jordan’s reaction during Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals when he made 6 of 10 attempts from 3-point range against Portland.
“The ball went in today,” Kelly said modestly. “Some days, it doesn’t got in as much as you’d like, but it certainly did today.”
Kelly’s first-half performace was a good news/bad news thing for the Blue Devils, who trailed 36-34 at intermission. The rest of Duke’s players were combining to shoot 6-of-17 without making a 3-point attempt.
“I really thought, in the first half, he was so unbelievable that I think it had an impact on our guys,” Krzyzewski said of the Blue Devils, who had six turnovers in the first 20 minutes. “In other words, you start watching him.
“We could have made a few plays that we didn’t make. At halftime, we just said, ‘OK, this is the transition that we have to get into with Ryan being out there.’”
The adjustments paid off, as the Blue Devils combined to make 13 of 23 shots including three 3-pointers by Quinn Cook.
Miami’s Jim Larranaga, the front-runner for national coach of the year, could do little but heap praise after the game.
“I told the team, I said, ‘This is a great game. We’ve got to keep plugging away. ... We need to buckle down a little better defensively,” Larranaga said. “But Kelly, I tried Kenny (Kadji) guarding him, Erik Swoope guarding him. In the end, we even had Trey McKinney Jones on him.
“But he was dynamic — 36 points on ... 14 attempts; that’s, quite frankly, ridiculous.”
Krzyzewski, with four NCAA championships and having coached two gold-medal winning Olympic teams, struggled to describe Kelly’s performance.
“I’ve been saying for two months, for the last 13 games, (that) we’ve been missing one of the best players in the country,” Krzyzewski said. “Tonight, he showed that.
“Fourteen shots — anybody who could do that would be shocking. For him to do it, knowing what happened — that’s one of those things that just doesn’t happen. How did that happen? I don’t know how the hell that happened. We won, and God bless America.”
Kelly has two more regular-season games remaining, starting Tuesday night with the Blue Devils last home contest.
“I’m just really happy that I got to come back for this game,” Kelly said. “And then obviously to (get to) experience Senior Night with the Cameron Crazies, with my family and with my teammates — I’m really excited that I’ll be able to do that, and I just hope to keep getting better.”
Better? Now there’s a scary thought — for any team the Blue Devils face down the road.
You may contact Jimmy DuPree at email@example.com or 919-419-6674.
|No. 3 DUKE 79, No. 5 MIAMI 76|
Percentages: FG .438, FT .824.
3-Point Goals: 6-21, .286 (McKinney Jones 2-3, Kadji 2-6, Larkin 2-7, Scott 0-2, Brown 0-3).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 0.
Turnovers: 10 (Larkin 4, Kadji 3, Jekiri, Johnson, Scott).
Steals: 1 (Scott).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .520, FT .615.
3-Point Goals: 11-23, .478 (Kelly 7-9, Cook 3-5, Curry 1-5, Thornton 0-1, Sulaimon 0-3).
Team Rebounds: 2.
Blocked Shots: 5 (Mas. Plumlee 2, Cook, Hairston, Kelly).
Turnovers: 10 (Sulaimon 4, Cook 3, Mas. Plumlee, Kelly, Hairston).
Steals: 4 (Kelly 2, Sulaimon, Mas. Plumlee).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials—Bryan Kersey, Jamie Luckie, Raymond Styons.