If unbeaten Duke is going to survive its biggest road test of the season Saturday at NC State, the Blue Devils will have to win without one of their top players.
Duke announced Wednesday evening that senior forward Ryan Kelly will be out "indefinitely" with a right foot injury he aggravated during the first half of Tuesday's victory over Clemson. Kelly did not break any bones in the foot, according to a CBSSports.com report, but he will not play for 2 to 4 weeks.
"We feel very badly for Ryan," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in the statement. "He is playing the best basketball of his career and this is a tough setback for him. We’re hoping for a good recovery and we are optimistic about his return."
The absence of Kelly deprives Duke of its most versatile player, a big man who can spread the floor with his 3-point shooting, set up teammates for easy buckets or score himself with his back to the basket. Kelly, Duke's third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, averages 13.5 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from behind the arc.
Without Kelly, Krzyzewski will have to extend his rotation and rely on an assortment of unproven frontcourt players who have yet to prove they're ready for a greater role.
Josh Hairston, a steady but not especially potent-scoring forward, will likely step into the starting lineup in place of Kelly. Either freshman Amile Jefferson or redshirt freshman Alex Murphy would likely absorb the remaining minutes, though Duke could turn to 7-foot Marshall Plumlee if it wants a true center on the floor when Mason Plumlee gets a rest.
Although not having Kelly for a couple weeks may cost Duke its undefeated record, the injury could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Devils in the long run.
The only way Duke's young big men are going to develop into contributors this season is if they receive some playing time, something Krzyzewski was hesitant to give them with the elder Plumlee and Kelly anchoring the frontcourt. Now Krzyzewski has no choice, and guys like Jefferson and Murphy will have a sink-or-swim chance to carve out a place in Duke's rotation for the rest of the season.
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