DURHAM When Ryan Kelly met with the media last Sunday, the first time he had done so since he injured his right foot, he offered an unsolicited comment.
I can still shoot, if youre wondering.
If there were any doubts, they were quickly erased. Kelly, who hadnt played since Jan. 8, scored a career-high 36 points against the No. 5 Miami Hurricanes and paced No. 3 Duke to a 79-76 win.
The very first play of the game was designed to get Kelly an open look from the free-throw line extended beyond the arc. It worked, but Kelly missed. That was one of only four misses all night, as he finished 10 of 14 from the field and 9 of 12 from the free-throw line to arrive at 36 points. He was also 7 of 9 from behind the arc, setting another career-high. Kelly was also Dukes leading rebounder, grabbing seven boards.
I thought we prepared for Ryan Kelly, Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. But, obviously, not for that Ryan Kelly.
Kelly scored 45.7 percent of Dukes total points, the highest percentage by a single Duke player this season.
Even Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was a bit dumbfounded when attempting to describe Kellys performance.
How did that happen? I dont know how the hell that happened, but it did and we won and God bless America.
Perhaps Krzyzewskis earlier statement put it best.
One for the ages, he said. Probably as good of performance as any Duke player has had in Cameron.
Kelly practiced with the Blue Devils (25-4, 12-4 ACC) for the first time Thursday in what Krzyzewski called half of a half of a practice, about 20 minutes. He had run through the offense for two days before that. And that was it as far as working with the team.
But Kelly had been working on his shot for about the past week.
Shooting is like riding a bicycle, Quinn Cook said. Once you get back to it, you really dont lose anything. Hes been putting in a lot of work since he got cleared.
With a special insert in his shoe designed to limit any movement by his foot, Kelly went to work. At one point in the first half, the Blue Devils called six straight plays for him. Kelly scored 20 first-half points just three shy of his career high and made 5 of 7 3-point attempts. No other Duke player finished the half with more than four points, as they spent too much time watching Kellys performance and not enough time focusing on making their own contributions.
I think thats a fair assessment, Mason Plumlee said.
Kelly was the main reason that Duke trailed Miami (23-5, 14-2) 36-34 at the half. The Hurricanes shot 46.9 percent from the field and dominated the boards, resulting in a 9-0 advantage in second-chance points.
That trend would continue into the second half, as Miami finished with 20 second-chance points, compared to Dukes four, thanks to a 13-4 edge in offensive rebounds . But the Blue Devils stopped watching Kelly and started contributing.
Quinn Cook scored 11 second-half points, and 15 total, and he hit four shots that either tied the game or put Duke in the lead. A Cook 3-pointer with the shot clock ticking down gave Duke its largest lead of the game, 75-65, with 1 minute, 55 seconds remaining.
As he went back on the floor for defense, he caught the eye of Duke assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski. And he remembered what Wojo had been known for slapping the floor, a move the Hurricanes had employed during the 90-63 drubbing in Coral Gables, Fla.. So, with a wide grin, he lowered his knees and slapped the floor. Kelly did the same.
It felt good, Cook said.
Miami didnt go away and had a chance to take the lead with 53 seconds left in the game, but a turnover and two missed 3s in the closing seconds ended their chances.
It wasnt a night for revenge, though the Blue Devils certainly got that. It was a night to welcome back Kelly, and he stole the show.
How many shots did Kelly attempt? Larranaga asked the media after the game. When he heard the answer 14 he stared into space for a moment before answering.
Thats, quite frankly, ridiculous.