After two losses coming in less than two weeks, the Duke road to the number one spot in the nation seemed closed. It still probably is, at least for another week, but getting Ryan Kelly back with a career-like performance, while beating Miami, the best team in the ACC so far this season, is probably good enough to feel happy about what they’ve done.

The blow out loss in South Florida over a month ago (63-90) did rattle some cages, and while Duke kept piling on the wins, it changed how things are usually looked at within the ACC, not to mention North Carolina not having the best of seasons after losing too many players last year. But Duke keep winning the big games, and while it might hurt some to see them ranked very high, right near the top, and get the number one seed for the tournament, the 79-76 win against Miami probably shows they deserve it.

It’s been happening all season, as the Blue Devils open the year with a 4-0 record against top 5 teams, with their wins against Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State earlier this season. It might not mean much, but it does show up well on the stat sheets and the BPI’s. Ryan Kelly had plenty of stats to show as well.

Me saying ‘spectacular’ or whatever doesn’t do his performance justice. One for the ages. Probably as good a performance as any player has had — a Duke player has had — in Cameron. If that what Coach K feels like after a game like that from Ryan Kelly, who are we to argue?

Kelly finished with 36 points and 7 rebounds, hitting 7-9 from beyond the arc. He alone outscored Miami 23-22 with shots from 15 feet and beyond. Duke shot 44.8% from that range in the win, compared to their awful 14.3% during the January loss in Miami. As much as coaches talk about strategies, preparations and what not, a lot of times, and especially with Duke over the years, it falls on the quality of shooting on a certain day. The important thing was having Ryan Kelly on the floor – Duke outscored Miami by six points with him on the court Saturday, and scored 1.23 points per possession in the 32 minutes that Kelly played, compared to 0.71 without him.

After a month without him, it’s clear to see just how important he is to the team. The Blue Devils are 16-0 with Kelly, 9-4 without him (0-2 against top-25 teams); They allow only 61.3 points per game with him, but that defense becomes much more vulnerable without Kelly, giving up more than 70 points a game. It’s safe to say Duke are a completely different team with & without him in the lineup.

He was the extra lift that we needed, he was the extra energy that we needed. He played tremendous. Every time we had a lull or a dead period, he was the one to pick us up. We were missing a great player in Ryan, but also we were missing a great leader, so we’re just happy to have him back.

Mike Krzyzewski also had a special game, although he obviously tried to forget about it being mentioned – he won his 879th game as Duke’s head coach, tying former North Carolina coach Dean Smith for the second-most wins by a coach at a school. Jim Boeheim has the most — 912 at Syracuse.

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