- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
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DURHAM, N.C. -- Quick thoughts on No. 3 Duke’s 79-76 victory over No. 5 Miami at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night.
Overview: Ryan Kelly, in his first action in more than a month, exploded in the first half. The senior, whose status was “questionable” prior to tipoff, scored 20 points before intermission. He didn’t play like a guy coming off a foot injury.
Duke’s defense wasn’t exactly impenetrable. The Hurricanes shot 47 percent from the field before the break. Durand Scott easily penetrated and Kenny Kadji hit big shots, too. The duo combined to score 18 points in the first half.
But Kelly was the difference-maker. His performance and appearance enhanced the Cameron atmosphere. Kelly was 7-for-10 (5-for-7 from the 3-point line) while the rest of the team’s starters went 4-for-15 in the first half. Miami took a 36-34 lead into the second half, which was filled with back-and-forth action, brief lead changes, ties, 3-pointers, floaters and an eardrum-bursting vibe.
Turning point: Really, the moment Kelly returned. More specifically … the matchup turned toward the end of the second half. The Blue Devils were down 56-55 when Kelly connected on a 3-pointer off Quinn Cook's assist. That play kicked off a 10-5 run that saw the Blue Devils take a four-point lead (65-61) with 5 minutes, 50 seconds to play. This was a very tight game. That brief separation was enough to help Duke (25-4, 12-4 ACC) finish strong and secure the victory. But it wasn’t that easy. Trey McKinney Jones hit a 3-pointer with 57.2 seconds to go.
Cook then stepped out of bounds on the inbounds -- and followed that up by committing the foul on Shane Larkin's turnaround layup attempt. Larkin missed the first free throw but made the second with 53.6 seconds to go. Duke had the ball and a 78-76 lead when Mason Plumlee tossed a full-court pass to Seth Curry that ultimately sailed out of bounds. But Miami (23-5, 14-2) responded with a turnover on a potential go-ahead possession. With the Blue Devils still up two with 31.1 seconds to play, Curry missed the second of two free-throw attempts, giving Miami a chance to tie. Larkin missed one 3-point try and Rion Brown missed another as the Blue Devils secured the 79-76 victory.
But the true turning pointing was the second that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski decided to play Kelly.
Key stat: Kelly missed 13 games. And in his first game back, he finished with a career-high 36 points.
Key player: Kelly. That’s all. The senior came up huge as the Blue Devils avenged their 27-point loss to the Hurricanes on Jan. 23.
Next game: Duke will host Virginia Tech on Tuesday. Miami will host Georgia Tech on Wednesday.