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.
Jan 30, 2015, 11:01 PM EST
Here is a rundown of all the action from Friday night.
Jan 30, 2015, 9:30 PM EST
The Jayhawks will wear these on Feb. 28.
Jan 30, 2015, 7:45 PM EST
That rivalry ended when Mizzou left the Big 12 in favor of the SEC.
Jan 30, 2015, 6:30 PM EST
Trey Davis left the court with only seconds remaining after colliding into a Kendall Pollard screen.
Jan 30, 2015, 5:45 PM EST
The backup guard has missed the last five games.
Jan 30, 2015, 5:09 PM EST
“Big Country,” Randy Rutherford and the rest of the squad is expected back for the team’s game against Kansas to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their trip to the Final Four.
Jan 30, 2015, 4:04 PM EST
Bruce Pearl expressed remorse over how his tenure at Tennessee ended and also remains thankful for former Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton.
Jan 30, 2015, 2:47 PM EST
Having already lost one game in Ivy League play, Harvard looks to bounce back with a win at Princeton.
Jan 30, 2015, 12:50 PM EST
Aaron White suffered a stinger in Iowa’s loss to Purdue, and Gabe Olaseni is dealing with a sprained ankle suffered Monday.
Jan 30, 2015, 11:43 AM EST
The donation will be used to improve the basketball offices and practice facility, with leftover funds being used for any improvements that may need to be made down the line.
Jan 30, 2015, 11:00 AM EST
Kansas’ incredibly rigorous schedule moves them to the top line in the latest update.
Jan 30, 2015, 10:35 AM EST
Thursday’s loss was a reminder of the fact that these current Utah players are still getting used to being the “hunted.”
Jan 30, 2015, 9:50 AM EST
While D’Angelo Russell gets most of the attention (and rightfully so), another freshman has stepped forward in the last two games for the Buckeyes.
Jan 30, 2015, 9:02 AM EST
The Super Bowl isn’t the only high-octane action we’ll see this weekend.
Jan 30, 2015, 12:19 AM EST
With Shannon Scott being a senior and D’Angelo Russell considered to be a possible lottery pick if he goes pro, JaQuan Lyle’s commitment is a nice insurance policy moving forward.
Jan 29, 2015, 10:57 PM EST
Ike Nwamu scored 20 points in the Bears’ 75-72 overtime win over Chattanooga, but should he have two (or three) more points to his credit?
Jan 29, 2015, 9:38 PM EST
Providence’s Kris Dunn posted the program’s first triple-double since 2006, and UMass held off Dayton in Amherst.
Jan 29, 2015, 8:44 PM EST
The third year of the event means an improved schedule, with all ten games being played on one day.
Bradley’s leading scorer one of three players facing disciplinary action following incident Thursday morning
Jan 29, 2015, 6:57 PM EST
Warren Jones is averaging a team-best 13.8 points per game for Bradley, which has lost six of its last seven games.
Jan 29, 2015, 5:46 PM EST
Leland King led Brown in scoring and was also tied for the team lead in rebounds per game.
- Weekend Preview: Duke-Virginia, an MVC showdown and UNC-Louisville 2
- Duke dismisses reserve shooting guard from program 13
- Chase for 180: Already a good shooter, Tyler Harvey’s been even better in 2014-15 0
- Film Session: The case for Jerian Grant as National Player of the Year 1
- Jerian Grant, No. 8 Notre Dame erase another double-digit deficit as they beat No. 4 Duke 7
- Late Night Snacks: No. 8 Notre Dame outlasts No. 4 Duke in a thriller 2
- 2015 McDonald’s All-American rosters announced 2
- Duke dismisses reserve shooting guard from program (13)
- Jerian Grant, No. 8 Notre Dame erase another double-digit deficit as they beat No. 4 Duke (7)
- Bill Self on the loss of Kansas-Missouri rivalry: ‘It hasn’t been great’ (5)
- Coach K earns career win No. 1,000 in No. 5 Duke’s win over St. John’s (4)
- Kentucky lands commitment from international Class of 2016 big man (4)