Duke welcomed star forward Ryan Kelly back from injury against the highly rated Miami Hurricanes on Saturday night, and welcomed he most certainly was.
Making his first appearance for the Blue Devils since suffering an injury in early January against Clemson, Kelly had a career-high 36 points and seven rebounds as the Blue Devils scored an incredible 79-76 victory over Miami.
Kelly's final stat line read 36 points, seven rebounds, two steals and an assist—single-handedly carrying the Blue Devils to victory in the process.
He also went an incredible 7-of-9 from deep, with the timing of the three-pointers crucial to Duke's ability to stop the Hurricanes.
The star forward had 20 points and five three-pointers in the first half alone. By that stage, he had over half of his team's total points and at least five times what any other player on the Duke squad had—showcasing just how missed he was by the Blue Devils in the last few weeks and how good it was for the college basketball heavyweights to have him back in the mix.
After all, they had gone 15-0 before his injury (and had beaten then No. 2 Louisville and No. 4 Ohio State in the process), yet had gone 9-4 since his absence. Moreover, they haven't beaten a Top-25 team in that time and have also lost to Maryland and Virgina—sliding down the rankings as a result.
Now Duke moves to 25-4, with a huge victory over a strong Miami side in the process, and are genuine contenders once more for the NCAA Championship. That might sound premature, but given the dominance on display tonight and the sheer ability Kelly has to make those around him play better—it's a pretty fair statement to make.
Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee also had strong nights for the Blue Devils against Miami, but it was Kelly who was the sole star of the night. He was able to generate the consistent offensive scoring needed to challenge the Hurricanes.
Duke will now take on Virginia Tech and UNC to close out their season, though the Blue Devils are seemingly unlikely to finish at the top of the ACC.
What they will do, however, is move forward into March Madness full of confidence that they can go a long way in the tournament this year—if not all the way.
Especially if Kelly continues to play like this.
What did you make of Ryan Kelly's return against Miami?
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