DURHAM, N.C. – Duke’s Ryan Kelly sure didn’t look like a guy who hadn’t played in two months.
The senior scored a career-high 36 points in his return from a foot injury that had sidelined him since January, helping third-ranked Duke beat fifth-ranked Miami 79-76 on Saturday night.
Kelly knocked down 10 of 14 shots – including 7 of 9 3-pointers– for the Blue Devils (25-4, 12-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), who avenged a blowout road loss in January by grinding out a tough win in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Quinn Cook added 15 points as Duke built a 10-point lead with about 2 minutes left then held off a frantic rally by Miami.
Shane Larkin scored 25 points to lead the Hurricanes (23-5, 14-2), who missed two 3s in the final seconds to tie it. Larkin came up short on the first over Kelly. Durand Scott ran down the rebound and fired a pass to the left corner to Rion Brown, whose final 3 clanged off the rim as the horn sounded.
Kelly immediately turned toward the Duke bench and extended both arms in the air, while Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski stopped on his way off the court to applaud and cheer toward the celebrating Cameron Crazies.
The game certainly lived up to the teams’ top-five rankings and their status as the ACC’s best. Miami led by seven in the first half and by two at the break, while Duke never led by more than five until finally building a cushion in the final 3 minutes.
Duke led 75-65 on Cook’s 3-pointer around the 2-minute mark, but the Hurricanes clawed their way back before getting the final two shots to tie. But Larkin also had a costly turnover when he threw away a sideline pass to Brown with Miami trailing by just two with about 30 seconds left.
Miami had beaten Duke 90-63 in January and had already clinched at least a share of the ACC regular-season title with the Blue Devils’ loss at Virginia on Thursday night.
But Saturday’s game was about more than just the league standings or the chance to avenge that blowout loss for the Blue Devils. Rather, this was the their chance to reclaim some swagger and momentum for March with the return of a player who had helped them to a No. 1 ranking before going out with an injury.