It’s taken some time, but the Duke Blue Devils have become more comfortable playing without senior forward Ryan Kelly.
After struggling from the field in their first three games without Kelly, shooting 37.9% from the field (1-2 record with losses at N.C. State and Miami), Duke has shot 52% or better in each of the last four games. In their 98-85 win over the Wolfpack at Cameron on Thursday night, Duke shot 53.8% and knocked down ten three-pointers.
Duke shooting 61.3% from the field in the first half may been seen as a “perfect storm” of sorts, but 14 of their 19 made field goals were assisted. The Blue Devils have done a better job of finding quality looks for each other and that’s been a key factor in their offensive executions in wins over Florida State and N.C. State.
“Yeah, we can’t start any better than we have in the past two games,” noted head coach Mike Krzyzewski after Thursday’s win. “We would love to have Ryan back, but we have learned to play with this group. I am not saying we are a great team, but we are a good team now with this group.”
Mason Plumlee made all five of his first-half field goal attempts (5-of-6 from the foul line as well) and guards Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon combined to shoot 10-of-16 from beyond the arc. And while the three-pointers didn’t fall in the second half (0-of-7) Duke got to the foul line, shooting 22-of-28 in the final 20 minutes.
Duke shooting better from the field overall and from three has been a factor in their recent success, but their improved distribution of the basketball (18 or more assists in three of the last four games) should not be overlooked either.
“Mason has played well all year long, he knows more is on him with Ryan out,” said Krzyzewski. “I think we are all getting more comfortable with Ryan out. With Amile, Murph gave us really good minutes tonight. It is a different team offensively than it is with Ryan.”
Duke doesn’t have the scoring at the four that they had when Kelly was on the floor, but after some tough times early they’ve adjusted. And that will make Duke a better team when the senior returns to the lineup.