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Harris: Kelly's return key for Blue Devils

| Sunday, March 10, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
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Dukes's Ryan Kelly drives past Virginia Tech's Marshall Wood on March, 5, 2013, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. (Getty Images)

When Ryan Kelly plays this season, Duke is the No. 1 team in the country.

Duke was 16-0 with Kelly in the lineup entering Saturday night's game against North Carolina. Without Kelly, Duke isn't Duke.

The Blue Devils went from the top-ranked team to No. 3 in Kelly's absence.

In his first game back after sitting out 13 in a row with a foot injury, Kelly, a 6-11 senior forward from Raleigh, N.C., torched Miami for a career-high 36 points in 32 minutes as he outscored the Hurricanes' starting frontcourt by himself.

Kelly buried 7 of 9 3-pointers and was 9 of 12 from the foul line. He added seven rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot as Duke held off Miami down the stretch to avenge a 27-point loss suffered in January.

Asked to compare Kelly's effort to some of the great individual performances turned in by the likes of Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and J.J. Redick, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski couldn't come up with enough superlatives.

“It's a completely different type of performance,” the Hall of Fame coach said during his weekly conference call. “Other guys performed while they were in good health, with practice. I've seen some exceptional performances from players over the last 33 years. But nobody had a performance like Ryan, considering the fact that he was out 51 days, really practiced part of one practice.”

Kelly's return only enhances Duke's bid to win the national championship.

In one of the most wide-open races to the Final Four in the history of college basketball, Kelly puts Duke in position to make a late-season push.

Highly regarded for his scoring ability, Kelly's biggest contributions may actually come at the defensive end.

“He's guarded outstanding players. When he's guarded them, they've always scored less than their average. They haven't had as significant of an impact as they normally do,” Krzyzewski said. “Just take Ohio State, he guarded Deshaun Thomas.”

Kelly limited Thomas, Ohio State's leading scorer, to 16 points in a 73-68 Duke win.

“He's a great help defender,” Krzyzewski said. “His talk on defense helps put everybody in position. He's a great position defender. He knows the game. His intelligence, his basketball IQ, is very, very high. He impacts the game in every way. That's why losing him for 13 games was such a significant loss.

“Now can we become really comfortable with him being back during these next couple weeks? That's the goal, to get back to the level that we were when we had him on a continuous basis.”

Crowd control

The large number of mob scenes at the end of games this season when jubilant fans rush the court following a big victory concerns TCU coach Trent Johnson.

TCU is having its struggles in its first season in the Big 12, but even Johnson's team pulled off an upset win at home against Kansas that resulted in fans storming the court at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.

TCU's 62-55 victory over then-No. 5 Kansas at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum on Feb. 6 was the Horned Frogs' first and only win in the Big 12 so far this season.

“I think it's a matter of time before somebody gets hurt,” Johnson said. “I've been on both sides in that situation. I think we need to be proactive. You look at what's going on. Kids are on Twitter saying things that rile up (students). I think it's the responsibility of the institutions, first and foremost, to make sure the visiting team is taken care of.”

Around the country

After saying freshman standout Shabazz Muhammad had played his final game at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA coach Ben Howland apologized for making it seem like he was encouraging his star player to leave school after one year for the NBA. Howland did say, however, that players should be able to leave school early if they're talented enough to play at the next level. Muhammad has not said he will leave school after one year, but draft boards project him as a Top 5 selection. … Michigan guard Trey Burke, who originally committed to Penn State, tallied 26 points, five rebounds, seven assists and three steals in a recent win over Purdue. It was arguably the best game for a Big Ten player since Mateen Cleaves in 1998. … Miami won 14 in a row to achieve the first No. 1 ranking in school history, The Hurricanes promptly lost three of their next four games, including two losses by a total of five points and a 71-69 loss to unranked Georgia Tech at the buzzer. … Serious consideration should be given to Oregon's Dana Altman for national coach of the year. No one expected the Ducks to contend for the Pac-12 title, but Altman has his team in position to do just that. … South Carolina's Brenton Williams scored 38 points coming off the bench in a win against Mississippi State. It was the most points by a South Carolina player since Terry Dozier had 38 against Florida State in 1987, and it was the most points off the bench by an SEC player in 15 years.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.

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