Kelly's return was one for the ages
Posted March 3, 2013
You're kidding, right?
Since Jan. 8, Ryan Kelly has been seen mostly in a wrinkled pair of khakis with his right foot in a boot – and I'm not talking about something produced by Uggs. On that night, late in the first half of a game in which Kelly would score 12 points, the senior from Raleigh felt something go wrong in his now thrice injured foot. Duke would announce an indefinite absence for Kelly, claiming that he would return eventually and insisting that it wasn't related to the injury that forced him to miss the end of last season. Slideshow: Kelly carries Duke over Miami, 79-76
Anyone remember what happened to the Blue Devils at the end of last year? Oh yeah, without the 6'11" forward, Duke lost two of their last three games including an upset at the hands of 15th seeded Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament. It was only the 6th time in history, since the field was expanded to 64 teams, that a 15-seed had beaten a 2. It also marked only the third time in Mike Krzyzewski's tenure at Duke that the Devils were dumped out of the tournament in their first game.
That was without Kelly.
With him, they have not lost this season. With Ryan, they beat Louisville, Ohio State, Virginia Commonwealth, Minnesota, Kentucky, Temple and Davidson. Without Ryan Kelly, Duke was 9-4, but very vulnerable. There was a close loss at Maryland, a pair of convincing road setbacks to NC State and Virginia – with the latter coming earlier this week – and that utterly humiliating performance six and a half weeks ago in Coral Gables that left people wondering whether the Blue Devils were ever going to return to being one of the best in college hoops. Heck, it left Mike Krzyzewski even wondering if the Devils were an NCAA tournament team.
Saturday night, against the team that dealt them their most embarrassing defeat since a 27-point debacle at Clemson in 2009, Kelly returned to the line up and simply lit the Miami Hurricanes on fire. I mean, Kelly dumped a 5-gallon jug of jet fuel on the Canes and lit the match.
It was 13 games and 53 days since Kelly last needed to wash his uniform, was I supposed to expect Kelly to bust off a career night? Miami's head coach Jim Larranaga wasn't surprised that Kelly played, he figured that, but like THAT? "I thought we prepared for Ryan Kelly, but not for THAT Ryan Kelly," Larranaga said after the game, after Kelly's career-high 36 points carried the Blue Devils to a 79-76 win.
Kelly missed his first shot, a right wing 3-pointer, just 25 seconds into the game. But, exactly two minutes later, Ryan found the mark from beyond the arc, the first of seven made 3-pointers on the night. Kelly made 10 of his 14 shots from the floor, from 3-point range he made seven of nine – including his last six – and he converted on nine of his 12 free throws. For the record, in Kelly's last ten games, he's made 28 of 40 from behind the 3-point line. Let me do the math for you, that's a cool 70 percent from long range.
Kelly also led Duke with seven rebounds, chipped in an assist, two steals and a blocked shot in 32 minutes of action. Did I mention that Kelly hadn't played in almost two months? Krzyzewski, after the game, said what most people failed to recognize during Kelly's absence, "For the last 13 games, we've been missing one of the best players in the country, and tonight he showed that."
It's funny, over the last two months, we've talked plenty about what Kelly's absence meant to the Blue Devils. How his ability to shoot from the outside made life easier for Mason Plumlee and how his defense and rebounding were vital for a Duke team that has had trouble on the boards. And almost every time someone would sarcastically wonder if Kelly would end up being an All-American considering how much he was missed by the Devils.
Maybe those of us harping on just how good Kelly is as a player were right. Maybe Ryan is simply all that and a pint of Ben & Jerry's. Either way, over the course of two hours, during which Kelly logged 32 minutes and buried the ACC champions with three after three after three after three after three after three after three, the former Ravenscroft star left the greatest coach in the history of the college game shaking his head. "We were all privileged to see one of the performances of the ages by Ryan Kelly," said a smiling Krzyzewski following the game. "(That was) as good a performance by a Duke player at Cameron, maybe ever."
If I had just read about it the next day there would be no way on the earth that I would have believed it. Honestly, I watched it and I still can't explain it. Considering the magnitude of the game, the fact that these same Hurricanes paddled Duke a month and a half ago and the circumstances surrounding Kelly's return, it probably was the greatest performance by a Duke player at Cameron Indoor Stadium … ever.
Welcome back, Ryan.