In the end, Mike Krzyzewski got just about everything he could out of his Duke Blue Devils.
It didn’t seem the season would end quite so early when Ryan Kelly went off for 36 points in his comeback game against Miami in late February. That night, it appeared the Blue Devils were the national front-runners, and in many respects they were.
But nobody knew Kelly would go into the tank within a week and never climb out and the overall effect that would have on the Blue Devils, whose season ended Sunday when Louisville pulled away for an 85-63 victory in the Midwest regional championship game in Indianapolis.
Duke (30-6) looked like a tired, worn out club. The Cardinals were spry and played with several extra skips in their collective steps, and that was even after the scary injury suffered by Kevin Ware.
Krzyzewski’s team was in the game, tied at 42-42 with 16 minutes left but that’s when the Devils hit a wall and the Cardinals simply plowed through: Louisville outscored Duke by 18 points over the next 10 minutes to salt away the game.
Duke went 0-for-10 from the field in that stretch, missing two layups and two jumpers following offensive rebounds.
Unfortunately, shooting blanks is the effect of injuries to Kelly and Seth Curry that will mark this season in perpetuity. To understand the 2013 Blue Devils is to understand that Curry rarely practiced, and in the last month, Kelly also rarely practiced upon his return.
In some respects, Duke was about as disjointed as one can imagine. But the injuries and separate treatment for certain players never became in an issue in-house. The maturity of role players such as Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston, and how they taught Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson to serve in that capacity, can’t be understated.
That amazing part of Duke’s culture continues on.
Krzyzewski said several times and most recently last week the staff didn’t think in September that Curry could play this season. But the training and medical staff, headed by Dr. Claude T. Moorman, one of the absolute best in the business, figured out a way to maximize what Curry could deliver. The unfortunate aspect of that is he just wasn’t effective with minimal rest.
Curry shot 48 percent from 3-point range on two or more days of rest, but he was at 29 percent on one or no days of rest. The senior guard continued that trend in the NCAA Tournament, hitting 18 of 31 field goal attempts (58.1 percent) in the two Friday games but he was only 8-for-24 (33 percent) on Sundays.
Kelly’s late struggles could be due to him playing too much when he returned. He never appeared to recover from the first two games. In Kelly’s second game back vs. Virginia Tech, coaches kept waving off his tired signals, forcing the 6-foot-10 senior to more quickly get into basketball shape.
But along the way he developed what appears to be a small hitch in his shot — and he never recovered.
Kelly was shooting 50.6 percent overall from the field and 56.7 percent from 3-point range going into the final UNC game to close the regular season. But in the final six contests, Kelly converted 28.8 percent from the field, including a disturbing 4.3 percent from beyond the arc.
His rebounding went from 6.5 per game to 4.1, free throw attempts dropped from 4.8 to 1.8 per game, and his scoring average was at 15 per game before visiting North Carolina, but in Duke’s last six games Kelly was at 6.8 points per.
Don’t blame Kelly or Curry for Duke falling short of some people’s expectations, including their own. Injuries happen, they are a part of sports. Duke also wasn’t as good defensively as it usually is.
Mason Plumlee was outstanding and raised his NBA stock, and while Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon weren’t ever all that consistent, they will be much better next season for this experience.
Plumlee’s dunk that tied Louisville at 42-42 with 16:20 left in the game was the last drop Krzyzewski could squeeze from this group. After that, his hands were dry.
But there’s no shame in everything coming to an end at that moment. No longer the Team USA national coach, the Hall of Fame coach gave Duke his undivided attention, and the Blue Devils clearly benefitted.
Duke didn’t win an ACC regular season or tournament title, nor could it reach the Final Four despite being led by three seniors. But it swept North Carolina, and with a lot of new blood coming in next season and their legendary coach as committed as ever, the Blue Devil Nation should feel pretty good about things.