Nov 13, 2012, 11:38 PM EST
ATLANTA – Keith Appling finished with 17 points and four assists in Friday’s season-opening loss to UConn on Ramstein Air Force base in Germany, but that solid stat-line does an impressive job of hiding the truth about his performance: Appling played far from his best game, failed to get Michigan State consistent quality shots down the stretch and was at the helm for an ugly offensive performance by the Spartans.
In simpler terms, the Spartans’ offensive struggles cost them a game against a team they had no business losing to, and as the point guard and first scoring option, much of the blame falls on Appling’s shoulders.
Judging any team based on a single performance, especially when that single performance comes on European soil, is wholeheartedly unfair. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop critics from wondering whether or not Michigan State was actually overrated this season. Appling was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school and entered last season with all kinds of expectations. Had he once again failed to improve his game? Was this just going to be another year made up of unfulfilled expectations, inconsistent perimeter shooting and too many turnovers?
It could be.
But after Tuesday’s performance, I wouldn’t bet on it.
Appling scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half, while also adding three assists and three steals as No. 21 Michigan State overcame a second half deficit to knock off No. 7 Kansas 67-64. But, as they did against UConn, Appling’s numbers only tell half the story.
On seemingly every crucial possession, Tom Izzo put the ball in Appling’s hands. When Kansas pushed their lead to six early in the second half, Appling drew a foul on one possession and found Adreian Payne for a lob on the next. Three minutes later, after Kansas got the lead back up to seven, Appling scored on back-to-back tough drives to keep the Spartans within reach. He hit a three at the 6:55 mark to give Michigan State their first lead since the 6:27 mark of the first half.
Most importantly, however, were the plays Appling made in the final three minutes. He found Branden Dawson, who was fouled and hit both free throws, with 2:07 left to put the Spartans up 62-59. After two free throws form Elijah Johnson, Appling dribbled left off of a high ball-screen, froze the hedger Jeff Withey, and buried a three from the top of the key. And after Ben McLemore finished an and-one off of a foul-induced Appling turnover, Sparty’s new go-to guy dribbled off that same high-ball screen, drawing Withey out before blowing by him for an acrobatic layup.
That put Michigan State up 67-64 with 12 seconds left, ensuring that Kansas would need to hit a three to force overtime. They didn’t. Spartans win.
And all this happened with Appling and freshman counterpart Gary Harris playing a heavier-than-normal workload with back up point guard Travis Trice laid up with a broken nose and concussion. Impressive, indeed.
So what changed in Appling in the four days since the game in Germany?
“It was very, very well coached,” Tom Izzo said with a laugh after the game. “He did a great job of staying under control.”
“He’s a phenomenal athlete, but he’s started to make better and better decisions. He continues to work on it, and I think he’s fallen in love with the game a little bit more, too. He’s a guy that’s watched a little bit more film than he did last year and he’s starting to understand things. I’m proud of Keith, I really am.”
Appling’s decision-making will be the difference for Michigan State this season.
I like Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne, but I doubt that even Izzo believes that his big men are much more than rebounders and defenders at this point. They aren’t exactly Tim Duncan and David Robinson. Even Branden Dawson is more of an undersized four than he is a pure small forward at this point in his career.
The offense has to come from somewhere, which is what makes Appling so important.
It wasn’t just his play in the clutch on Tuesday night; Michigan State looked like a different team in the first half against Kansas than they did against UConn. There was movement offensively, they were scoring in transition, and, quite frankly, they looked like they had a clue at that end of the floor. That’s the benefit of Appling, the facilitator.
And it’s fine if he plays that role, because it means he’s embracing the idea of being a point guard.
So long as he doesn’t forget about his value as the closer in the clutch.
Dec 21, 2014, 12:10 AM EST
With pieces that fit together better than last season’s 17-15 squad, the Huskies are off to a 10-0 start.
Dec 20, 2014, 10:26 PM EST
George Mason’s last win over a Division I opponent prior to Saturday came against another MAAC program, Manhattan, on November 29.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:00 PM EST
Jackson scored 22 points, with two coming on an emphatic dunk on Purdue freshman Isaac Haas.
Dec 20, 2014, 8:41 PM EST
It’s already been a busy day in college hoops, with two buzzer-beaters and two ranked teams already going down.
Dec 20, 2014, 7:57 PM EST
While Michigan State’s 4-for-21 night from three didn’t help matters, Texas Southern shot better than 53 percent from the field.
Dec 20, 2014, 7:18 PM EST
Burton was one of two sophomores to leave the Marquette program earlier this month.
Dec 20, 2014, 5:46 PM EST
Kentucky completely embarrassed UCLA on Saturday.
Dec 20, 2014, 5:04 PM EST
Mitchell Wilbekin could miss up to six games, and classmates Cornelius Hudson and Rondale Watson missed Saturday’s game for conduct detrimental to the team.
Dec 20, 2014, 4:31 PM EST
Illinois has now won two straight in the series, thanks to Rice’s three-pointer as time expired.
Dec 20, 2014, 3:26 PM EST
Not surprising, considering Gus Johnson is on the call.
Dec 20, 2014, 3:23 PM EST
North Carolina had its most impressive showing of the season in a convincing win over Ohio State on Saturday in Chicago.
Dec 20, 2014, 1:30 PM EST
Josh Jackson put on a show last night. Here’s a mixtape of what he can do.
Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell throws a punch, ejected as tempers flare against Western Kentucky (VIDEOS)
Dec 20, 2014, 12:56 PM EST
Montrezl Harrell ejected for throwing a punch.
Dec 20, 2014, 11:49 AM EST
This will be the first time that Murphy plays this season.
Dec 20, 2014, 11:25 AM EST
He won’t coach against VCU.
Dec 20, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
Kwe Parker might only be a junior in high school, but he’s one of the best leapers in the country.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
If you don’t feel like watching lower-tier bowl games, you’ll be happy to know that Saturday is loaded with great games.
Dec 19, 2014, 11:45 PM EST
Here’s a rundown of Friday night’s action.
Alex Mitola’s buzzer-beater three gives Dartmouth a 58-55 overtime win over Northern Illinois (VIDEO)
Dec 19, 2014, 11:12 PM EST
Alex Mitola ended with 18 points for the Big Green.
Dec 19, 2014, 10:13 PM EST
Eastern Kentucky had 14 threes. Miami had 12 field goals.
- Late Night Snacks: Villanova survives Syracuse while UNC, SMU get big wins 0
- No. 1 Kentucky dismantles UCLA 4
- Markus Kennedy cleared to play immediately for SMU 0
- Weekend Preview: A loaded Saturday slate highlights the weekend 4
- Rebounding, foul shooting help No. 2 Duke make up for 19 turnovers in win over UConn 0
- Michigan State starting forward to miss next two games with non-displaced wrist fracture 0
- Film Session: What’s plaguing Marcus Paige? 1
- Gregg Marshall writes to Wichita State students after seeing empty seats in student section (PHOTO) (7)
- Report: David Robinson’s son will be preferred walk-on at Duke in 2015-16 (VIDEO) (6)
- West Virginia’s Bob Huggins torches Marshall after coach calls Huggs ‘afraid’ (5)
- Lauren Hill’s playing career over, to become honorary coach (4)
- Weekend Preview: A loaded Saturday slate highlights the weekend (4)