All about the ACC: Duke’s Kelly coming of age

Duke’s Ryan Kelly hasn’t had a typical career for a five-star recruit.

Kelly, a 6-foot-11 junior forward, was the No. 20 overall recruit in the 2009 signing class. He played in both the McDonald’s and Jordan Brand all-star games, and he was a first-team member of the Parade magazine All-America squad as well.

Ryan Kelly scored a career-high 21 points in Duke's win over Georgia Tech on Saturday.
(US Presswire)

He arrived at Duke with the reputation of having a well-developed all-around offensive game, able to hit the 3-pointer as well as score in the paint.

But he really didn’t do too much in his first two seasons on campus. He was a deep reserve as a freshman, then became a part-time starter last season as a sophomore. Truthfully, though, a five-star recruit is expected to produce more than 286 total points (4.0 average) in his first two seasons.

This season, Kelly finally is starting to live up to his high school hype. He had the best game of his career Saturday, scoring a career-high 21 points in an 81-74 victory at Georgia Tech in Duke’s ACC opener.

Kelly was 14-of-14 from the line on the way to his 21-point effort, a career-high by three points. His previous career high had come Jan. 1, when he had 18 to help Duke rout Penn 85-55.

Kelly was 8-of-8 from the line in the final 40 seconds to hold off the upset-minded Yellow Jackets.

“Ryan was terrific,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. “… Our best play was to say, ‘Mason [Plumlee], if they score, get it into Ryan.’ That was the best play I called all day. Good thing they saved a seat for me on the plane. I got one thing right.”

Kelly’s performance from the line tied for the second-best in Duke history. Dick Groat went 17-of-17 in 1950, and Gene Banks (1980) and J.J. Redick (2005) also went 14-of-14.

“Free throws are free throws,” Kelly told reporters afterward. “That’s how I look at it. I’m a good free throw shooter and I’m a confident shooter, and I believe I’m going to knock it down, regardless of when it is during the game. I believe my teammates can count on me to do that.”

It was Kelly’s 10th double-figure game of the season, and it came as a reserve; he didn’t start for the first time in 11 games. Coming off the bench seems to agree with Kelly: He has scored in double figures in each of the four games he hasn’t started.

[Rewind: Kelly helps Duke hold off Georgia Tech]

Still, his inconsistency has led to him losing his starting job at times. In the offseason, Krzyzewski predicted a breakout season for Kelly. Some games, he has looked like a five-star recruit. The goal now has to be to do that more often.

Three to watch

Florida State at Virginia Tech, Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPNU: FSU got blasted at Clemson in its first ACC game. The Hokies, meanwhile, dropped their league opener at Wake Forest. Those were not good losses. Who rebounds quicker?

Virginia at Duke, Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN: This is the best game in a weak week of league games. The Cavs held off Miami by one in their league opener, and they can serve notice that they are legit contenders if they can pull the upset. Truth be told, if they can keep it close, it might show UVa is the league’s third-best team.

North Carolina at Florida State, Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN: The second of two big games for the Seminoles this week. UNC plays host to Miami on Tuesday, then goes on the road for the first time since Dec. 3 when it travels to Tallahassee.

Who’s hot?

North Carolina G Kendall Marshall: Marshall has been an assist machine for the Tar Heels. He had 11 in Saturday’s victory over Boston College, his seventh game this season with at least 10 assists. He is averaging a nation’s-high 10.1 assists and has an unreal 4.1-to-1, assist-to-turnover ratio.

N.C. State G Scott Wood: Wood is gold at the free-throw line. He was 6-of-6 from the charity stripe in Sunday’s win over Maryland – the Wolfpack’s sixth victory in a row – and now is 37-of-37 from the line this season. In addition, he has made 47 consecutive free throws dating to last season.

Wake Forest G C.J. Harris: He’s the No. 2 scorer in the league at 18.3 points per game, and he has been extremely efficient on offense. He is shooting 52.7 percent from the field and 55.1 percent from 3-point range. He is 15-of-22 from beyond the arc in his past seven games (68.2 percent).

Who’s not?

Florida State’s outside shooting: For a team not that proficient from 3-point range, the Seminoles sure do jack up a lot of shots from beyond the arc. FSU is hitting just 30.1 percent of its 3-pointers for the season, but 38 percent of their field goal attempts over the past eight games have been 3-pointers. Why all the 3-pointers?

Georgia Tech G Mfon Udofia: He needs to take better care of the ball. In the past six games, he has 23 turnovers and 13 assists. For the season, he is averaging 3.1 turnovers and 2.5 assists.

North Carolina at the line: For a team with a plethora of talented offensive players, UNC is surprisingly poor from the line. The Heels are hitting just 64.6 percent of their free throws, which is last in the league.

Good win last week

Clemson 79, Florida State 59: It’s not so much the victory itself as the margin. Clemson used a 20-0 run to turn a close game (12-10) into a blowout, and the Tigers cruised in the second half. It’s dangerous to read too much into the first league game of the season, but Clemson’s solid offensive effort against a good defensive team means things might not be as dire as expected for the Tigers. Conversely, FSU’s offensive ineptitude bodes ill.

Bad loss last week

Wake Forest 58, Virginia Tech 55: Wake was coming in off a home loss to Wofford, but the Demon Deacons had enough to edge the Hokies in the ACC opener for both. As with Florida State, Virginia Tech was supposed to open league play with a road win against a middling opponent. It didn’t happen.

Numbers game

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski won his 375th career ACC game Saturday when the Blue Devils beat Georgia Tech. He is just the second league coach in history to reach that plateau; North Carolina’s Dean Smith won 422 conference games. Only one other league coach even won 200 ACC games – former Maryland head man Gary Williams with 210.

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Mike Huguenin is a Yahoo! Sports college sports editor. Send Mike a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Jan 8, 2012