Nov 13, 2012, 11:38 PM EDT
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.
May 28, 2015, 4:04 PM EDT
UConn’s now added three transfers to the program this spring, two of whom will be eligible immediately as graduate students.
May 28, 2015, 3:24 PM EDT
Foster led Clemson to their only Elite 8 appearance in program history.
May 28, 2015, 2:07 PM EDT
Paige went to high school an hour from UNI’s campus.
May 28, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
Iowa State fans shouldn’t freak out too much.
May 28, 2015, 12:24 PM EDT
Dellavedova was a star with the Gaels before he became this year’s NBA Playoff star.
May 28, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
Byers created the term “student-athlete” and first sold TV rights for NCAA broadcasts, but later wrote a book blasting the NCAA for exploiting athletes.
May 28, 2015, 9:52 AM EDT
This is a step in the right direction by the Big 12.
May 27, 2015, 11:27 PM EDT
It’s safe to say that Sherman is no fan of the NCAA.
May 27, 2015, 9:05 PM EDT
The shot clock won’t have as much of an impact on offenses as lessening the physicality of the game.
May 27, 2015, 7:31 PM EDT
The 6-foot-11 center was originally expected to attend prep school before joining Memphis in 2016.
May 27, 2015, 5:38 PM EDT
The 6-foot-6 southpaw showed off his arm, and was accurate in doing so.
May 27, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
Matthews is the recruit everyone forgets about.
May 27, 2015, 1:32 PM EDT
That numbers is half what it was in 2015.
May 27, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
Self and his wife created the Assists Foundation.
May 27, 2015, 11:09 AM EDT
Reed broke a cop’s finger while resisting a shoplifting arrest.
May 27, 2015, 10:28 AM EDT
Miles is 47-49 in three years with Nebraska.
May 27, 2015, 9:27 AM EDT
This swing is ugly.
May 26, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
DeAndre Ayton finally got a chance to play this spring and delivered in a big way.
May 26, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
Point guard CJ Walker is focused on seven schools during the recruiting process.
May 26, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
Four-star guard Maverick Rowan has a choice to make for his basketball future in the immediate future.
- #FredHoibergWatch officially commences today, as Bulls fire Thibodeau 3
- There’s only one way the NCAA gets UNC investigation wrong: a 2016 postseason ban 37
- Academic issues expected to sideline St. John’s point guard for fall semester, maybe longer 7
- North Carolina announces receipt of Notice of Allegations from NCAA 3
- LSU’s ’25 is coming’ campaign doesn’t try to hide that they’re monetizing Ben Simmons 2
- Looking Forward: Catching up on the American’s offseason 1
- Five-star center Caleb Swanigan has committed to Purdue 8
- There’s only one way the NCAA gets UNC investigation wrong: a 2016 postseason ban (37)
- Four men’s teams banned from 2016 postseason due to APR scores (10)
- Sports book lists Maryland as early favorite to win national title (9)
- Academic issues expected to sideline St. John’s point guard for fall semester, maybe longer (7)
- Report: Class of 2016 four-star wing considering college among playing options for next season (5)