DURHAM — Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday he hopes Ryan Kelly will return to the practice court Thursday, but Duke still isn’t sure how much it will be able to count on the junior forward when it begins the NCAA tournament on Friday against Lehigh.
Kelly suffered a sprained right foot last Tuesday in practice and sat out the ACC tournament.
“He’s doing running in water and trying to get his movements and conditioning going,” Duke’s coach said. “We’re hoping by Thursday to get him on the court. But we’ll see – it’s a day-to-day thing.”
The second-seeded Blue Devils (27-6) will face No. 15 seed Lehigh (26-7) at the Greensboro Coliseum on Friday (WRAL, 7:15 p.m.).
Without Kelly at the ACC tournament, Duke’s offense bogged down in Atlanta.
The Blue Devils averaged 59.5 points in their two games of the ACC tournament, down from their season average of 77.5 points per game. Duke also shot 37.1 percent from the floor.
A graduate of Raleigh’s Ravenscroft School, Kelly is averaging 11.8 points per game this season while making 40.8 percent of his 3-pointers.
“You lose Ryan, you try to do some different things and you get away from the old things,” Krzyzewski said. “All of the sudden down in Atlanta, there were times we just didn’t execute very well.”
Part of the problem was that the space that Kelly normally creates with his long-range skills disappeared. Opposing defense concentrated their efforts on guards Seth Curry and Austin Rivers, who had less space to create. Duke also runs much of its offense through Kelly with dribble handoffs and or pick-and-pop plays, so his absence eliminated wide swaths of the playbook.
“Quite frankly, you become an easier team to defend,” Krzyzewski said. “There’s no getting around it.”
If Kelly cannot play significant minutes this weekend, Mason and Miles Plumlee will share most of the burden up front. Josh Hairston also saw an increase in playing time at the ACC tournament, playing a career-high 21 minutes against Florida State on Saturday.
“Ryan’s a huge part of our team, no doubt,” Rivers said. “But we have guys that are going to step in and fill the role. I have 100 percent confidence in my other teammates.”