DURHAM — When Ryan Kelly met with the media on 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 hadn't 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 on the elbow 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 his 36 points. He was also 7-of-9 from behind the arc, setting a career-high. Kelly was also Dukes leading rebounder, too, grabbing seven boards.
I thought we prepared for Ryan Kelly, Miami head 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 Mike Krzyzewski, who has seen quite a few basketball games over the years, 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 opening 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 in the ACC) for the first time Thursday in what Krzyzewski called half of a half of a practice, or 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 pointsjust three shy of his career highand 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) by just 36-34 at the half. The Hurricanes were shooting 46.9 percent from the field and dominating 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 (a 13-4 edge in offensive rebounding will do that). But the Blue Devils stopped watching Kelly and started contributing.
Quinn Cook scored nine second-half points, and 15 in total, and he hit three 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 one minute, 22 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 forslapping the floor, a move the Hurricanes had mocked during the 90-63 drubbing in Coral Gables. 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 sealed the loss.
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 answer14he stared into space for a moment before answering.
Thats, quite frankly, ridiculous.
--Miami center Reggie Johnson started for the first time since the Hurricanes Dec. 18 victory against UCF. Johnson suffered a broken thumb that forced him to miss about a month, and started on Saturday for the first time since enduring that injury. For Johnson, though, this was a game to forget. He battled foul trouble all night, and didnt score a point after missing all five of his attempts from the field.
--With the return of Ryan Kelly to the starting lineup, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski shortened his bench and used just two reserves on Saturday. Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy, two players whose roles expanded during Kellys absence, didnt play at all against Miami. Murhpy had played at least eight minutes in each of Dukes previous four games, while Jefferson, who has started seven games this season, played at least 13 minutes in each of the Blue Devils past three games.
--Quinn Cook played with emotion throughout the Blue Devils victory. With Duke leading 33-31 in the first half, Cook blocked Durand Scotts shot near the baseline. After the play, Cook approached the Duke student section and waved his arms, encouraging them to become louder. In the second half, after Cook made a 3-pointer to give Duke a 75-65 lead its largest of the game Cook emphatically slapped the floor. When the final buzzer sounded, Cook ran the length of the court, slapping hands with Duke students.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley