INDIANAPOLIS — Ryan Kelly rotated around the perimeter during Dukes open practice Thursday, hoisting up a bevy of 3-point jumpers.
At one point, assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski fed him basketballs as Kelly rotated from the top of the arc to the left elbow, and he made five of six shots.
Thats the type of rhythm Duke would like Kelly to find during a game. Just his presence stretches the defense. If his shots are falling, they could stretch the difference between Duke and Michigan State on the scoreboard. The Blue Devils and the Spartans will tip off in their Sweet 16 matchup Friday at 9:45 p.m.
Hes the pick-and-pop 4, said Adreian Payne, the Spartan who will defend Kelly. We just have to contest every shot.
Since Kellys triumphant, 36-point return from injury against Miami, his shot has gone cold. He is 2-of-17 (11.8 percent) from behind the arc since that night, a span of five games. Overall, Kelly is 14-of-40 (35 percent) during that stretch well below his season average of 46.4 percent.
When fielding questions about his slump, Kelly has been adamant that he doesnt lack confidence. He reiterated that thought Thursday.
As far as my shot goes, Im not worried about that, he said. Obviously, when I just came back, the ball certainly went in the basket. And that happens sometimes, and sometimes the ball doesnt go in the basket.
But Im confident in my shot, and I always believe Im going to make the next one.
Paynes shot has been trending in the opposite direction. Since postseason play started for the Spartans, he is 18-of-36 (50 percent) from the field. He has also recorded two double-doubles.
Midway through the second half against Memphis, he blocked a D.J. Stephens shot that sparked the Spartans blowout.
That was a game-changing moment, point guard Keith Appling said.
Payne knows about stretching defenses, too. He will attempt a few 3-pointers each game and shoots 40.5 percent from beyond the arc. But Payne, a 6-foot-10 power forward, is most comfortable around the basket.
He leads the Spartans with an average of 7.5 rebounds and has 44 blocks (his 38-inch standing vertical leap is the best of the Tom Izzo era in East Lansing). Five of those came against Memphis.
Payne reflects the general theme of the Spartans: big and physical. Kelly, though, has handled his share of premiere defensive assignments, like Ohio States DeSean Thomas and, last week, Creightons Doug McDermott.
Hes an outstanding defender, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Kelly. He showed it in the last game on McDermott. Hes not in shape yet to play at that level on both ends of the court, so he sacrificed a lot offensively just to try to hold McDermott down. Im not saying anyone can stop him, but he held him in check.
Kelly said he feels like hes physically 100 percent, and thats the first time he has said that since returning from injury. The timing couldnt be better for Duke. Now all he has to do is channel that practice rhythm.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley