Ever since Ryan Kelly went down with an injury in the first half of Duke’s 68-40 victory over Clemson on January 8th, the Blue Devils have struggled to keep it together on both ends of the court. Kelly, a reliable rebounder, shot-blocker and scorer, left Coach K’s rotation with a gaping hole that was all too visible in the following games.
Josh Hairston attempted to fill the role, but his constant hustle and enthusiasm couldn’t overcome his overall lack of talent on both the defensive and offensive ends of the court. Defensively, he had trouble sticking with the bizarrely talented and athletic forwards of the ACC and he has never been any sort of a threat on offense.
Amile Jefferson emerged as a talented, young forward, but his lack of perimeter skills and undeveloped post-defense left the Blue Devils still searching for answers on how to succeed without Kelly in the lineup. With the recent news that Kelly would be out until at least late February, Duke fans grew more and more eager for a complete performance out of the team.
They finally got one this Saturday in the form of a 79-60 blowout of Florida State in Tallahassee. The score, as lopsided as it is, doesn’t come close to showing how dominant of a performance it actually was by the Blue Devils. The offense looked smooth for the first time in weeks, Duke managed to out-rebound the Seminoles and their freakishly tall centers, and shot 60.8% from the field.
It was only one game, but it was a heck of a performance against a solid Florida State team in their own house. Not only was it their first impressive road game of the season, but it was their first impressive game since the loss of Kelly. Jefferson and Hairston are starting to look more comfortable in their increased roles, too. Jefferson was getting by on his non-stop energy before, but now he is playing smart and effective while still coming up with hustle plays on a consistent basis. The ball is moving around the floor better on offense, as well, which may go hand-in-hand with having Hairston and Jefferson being more comfortable in the offense. Obviously, Duke isn’t going to be able to shoot over 60% every time they take the floor, but the offense looked infinitely better last weekend.
We’ll have to keep our eye on them and make sure they sustain the level of performance they had in Tallahassee, but it looks like Duke is finally back on track.