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As Ryan Kelly continued to nurse his injured right foot well into conference play, Duke's chances of making a deep run in this year's NCAA tournament were slowly fading away.
Without its third leading-scorer, Duke was forced to fill that void quickly. Furthermore, teams were beginning to key on Mason Plumlee with constant pressure and double-teams, thus slowing down the Naismith College Player of the Year candidate.
Kelly's absence was sorely missed on the defensive end. And that was most telling in the Blue Devils only four losses of the season.
Without the 6'11" forward, Duke gave up an average of 82.5 points per game in its four losses this season while allowing 53 percent shooting from the field.
But, that's all in the past now.
Kelly made his highly anticipated on-court return on March 2 in a rematch against the Miami Hurricanes. After scoring a career-high 36 points while leading Duke to a 79-76 victory, his sudden impact rejuvenated a Blue Devils team that had looked like a considerably flawed basketball team.
With his ability to stretch a defense from beyond the arc (53.1 percent from three-point range) to taking defenders off the dribble and scoring from midrange, the Duke offense has returned to its original explosiveness that saw them start the season with an unblemished 15-0 record.
After finishing the regular season with an impressive three-game winning streak and with Kelly back in the lineup, Duke is now poised to become the top contender for the national championship.