DURHAM — After last years loss at Ohio State, Ryan Kelly couldnt sleep.
The Blue Devils were coming off a Maui Invitational title-game win against Kansas, a team that would reach the national championship game. But when then-No. 3 Duke went to face then-No.2 Ohio State in Columbus, the game was never competitive.
The Buckeyes opened on an 11-0 run and led by as many as 25 before the final horn sounded in an 85-63 blowout victory.
When you lose that badly, you dont feel good for days, Kelly said. Winning is a great feeling, but often losing, especially that badly, is worse in the other direction.
This years Duke team, currently 6-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation, gets another try against No. 4 Ohio State (4-0), this time in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Tipoff is at 9:35 p.m. Wednesday.
Both Kelly and fellow co-captain Mason Plumlee struggled for words when describing the feeling after last years loss.
That was, really, it was so, I dont know a good word for it, Plumlee said. To come off such a high of beating Kansas, a team that ends up going to the national championship game, its like you gain confidence, and then its all taken away. When you get beat, you may lose a game by five or 10 points, but we got blown out. We didnt compete. We didnt even play hard. That sets you back. Thats really what that game did to us."
Like last year, Duke is coming off an emotional tournament win. But the Bahamas are much closer than Maui, cutting a significant amount of travel. Further reducing the amount of transit time is that Duke plays at home this year, which was noted by Kelly as well as Plumlee, Seth Curry and Tyler Thornton.
And Duke and Ohio State are different, too. Gone are players like Jared Sullinger for the Buckeyes and Austin Rivers for Duke. This years Blue Devils squad is led by Battle 4 Atlantis MVP Quinn Cook, who played sparingly last year. Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon is averaging 12 points per game and plays solid defense, and Kelly, too, has improved defensively. Hes already successfully limited the impact of players such as Kentuckys Kyle Wiltjer and Minnesotas Rodney Williams.
Kelly will likely match up against Ohio States Deshaun Thomas, who leads the Buckeyes with an average of 24 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
The defensive improvement Kelly has shown this year dates back to his work this summer.
It started in the offseason working on quickness, lateral quickness, he said. God didnt give me that gift necessarily, so I had to work hard at it. Ive continued to improve.
The entire Duke team has continued to improve so far this year against what many are calling the toughest early season schedule in the country. Duke has already faced two top-five teams in Kentucky and Louisville, and Ohio State will complete the trio.
And even though it is a different year, there will be a bit of revenge factor, both Plumlee and Kelly said. The coaching staff, though, did warn the team about playing for revenge alone.
We were actually just talking about that, Plumlee said when asked about revenge. Coach said that if revenge is our only motivation, then were going to be a terrible team because were going to have to lose to everybody to win one.
Ohio State has already taken care of the first part of that equation.