The news hit the Twitterverse and the Duke fan base like a thud: Ryan Kelly, the White Raven, was hurt. Blue Devil fans have seen this before and they didn’t like the results.
Kelly who was red hot against Wake Forest this past weekend scoring 22 points and was Duke’s only viable looking offensive threat in the first half of Tuesday night’s game against Clemson scoring 12 points in the opening frame. But then the news that he hurt his foot came and Kelly sat out the entire second half.
Reports quickly confirmed that it was the same foot that Kelly broke late last season that cost him the ACC Tournament and Duke’s opening round loss to Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament. It was also the same foot he apparently sprained over the Christmas break.
The Blue Devils have been down this road and you’d have to think that if this injury is serious or costs Kelly time that Duke is a more vulnerable team. Kelly who is averaging 13.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and almost 2 blocks per game has been one of the Blue Devils best players this season.
His ability to stretch opposing defenses and shoot the ball coined the oft used phrase stretch-four. He has allowed Duke’s offense to be extremely dangerous as a result, but his improvements on the defensive end have helped a team that struggled greatly last year on the defensive end get back to its high pressure man-to-man attacking defensive style of past seasons.
Some might even argue that even though he doesn’t lead Duke in any particularly category that Kelly is the Blue Devils best player. He is certainly a guy that Duke cannot replace very easily and now that that could be a real possibility, the question of who steps up naturally begins to be asked.
Mike Krzyzewski said after the Clemson game that Kelly was going to have an MRI and those three letter coming from that man’s mouth are never good. The string of top flight players lost to foot injuries at Duke is just mind boggling and much too long to list but it includes Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer, Grant Hill, Kyrie Irving and now Ryan Kelly (twice). And that isn’t all of them.
At this point Kelly is questionable at best for Duke’s show down against NC State on Saturday and that would be a huge blow given what Duke does both offensively and defensively with Kelly.
His loss means that one of Josh Hairston, Alex Murphy, Amile Jefferson and or Marshall Plumlee is going to have to step up and compensate both for his minutes and potentially his scoring out put. Given what those four players have been doing all season that isn’t encouraging.
Now that isn’t to be a knock on any of those guys, but none of them do what Ryan Kelly does. Perhaps with more time they can, but a game against a Top 20 team on their home court isn’t the kind of proving ground where unproven and or young players typically make their mark. Again that doesn’t mean they can’t but the probability isn’t in their favor.
News on Kelly’s injury isn’t likely to come until Wednesday afternoon and until then Duke fans will be holding their collective breathes hoping that this isn’t another critical injury to a critical player. The program has responded in the past to these types of situations but I can speak for the fan base when I say everyone is tired of seeing it happen and they are most tired of foot injuries.
Duke won’t collapse without Ryan Kelly, but it is a safe assumption that if he is out for an extended period of time he they certainly will not fly as high without him as they would with him.
Stay tuned to the Duke Sports Blog for more updates on Kelly. We will have an update and reaction to it following a formal announcement from Duke tomorrow.