DURHAM, N.C. — Ryan Kelly had waited two months for the chance to help his Duke teammates reclaim the form that had made them the nation's top-ranked team.
He returned with a stunning performance that shook up No. 5 Miami and left his Hall of Fame coach struggling for the right words to describe it.
The senior had a career-high 36 points in his return from a foot injury that had sidelined him since January, helping the third-ranked Blue Devils beat the fifth-ranked Hurricanes 79-76 on Saturday night in a matchup of the ACC's top teams.
"Well, I thought we prepared for Ryan Kelly but obviously not for that Ryan Kelly," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. "He was sensational from start to finish."
Kelly sank 10 of 14 shots, including 7 of 9 3-pointers, for the Blue Devils (25-4, 12-4), who avenged a blowout road loss in January. He also made 9 of 12 free throws and pulled down seven rebounds in 32 minutes.
The performance left Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski joking to reporters that he was interested to read how they'd describe Kelly's big night. "I mean, me saying 'spectacular' or whatever doesn't do his performance justice," Krzyzewski said. "One for the ages. Probably as good a performance as any player has had — a Duke player has had — in Cameron (Indoor Stadium)."
Kelly's performance was the highlight of a game that lived up to the teams' rankings and their status as the league's best. Miami led by seven in the first half and two at the break. Duke never led by more than five until the final three minutes.
Down by 10, the Hurricanes (23-5, 14-2) made a frantic rally and missed two 3s in the final seconds. Shane Larkin came up short on the first over Kelly. Durand Scott ran down the rebound and fired a pass to the left corner to Rion Brown, whose final 3 attempt clanged off the rim as the horn sounded.
"We just didn't hit the shot that we needed to hit to tie the game at the end," Larkin said.
Miami made a series of late mistakes, including Reggie Johnson fumbling away passes in the paint and Larkin missing a free throw that could've made it a one-point game with 53.6 seconds left. The biggest miscue came when Larkin threw away a pass to Brown near the Miami bench on a miscommunication with the Hurricanes trailing by two with about 30 seconds left.
"I told the team … we needed to play just a little better down the stretch," Larranaga said.