Appling plays major role in victory over Jayhawks
Detroit native shines in leadership position for Spartans
Junior guard Keith Appling dribbles the ball down the court Nov. 2 at Breslin Center. In the second regular season game of the year, Appling rallied the Spartans with a game-high 19 points to upset No. 7 Kansas in the Champions Classic in Atlanta. Adam Toolin/The State News
As the first half against No. 7 Kansas came to a close, junior guard Keith Appling only had three points to his name.
One half and 16 points later, Keith Appling was walking into the locker room as the leading scorer of the game. More importantly for Appling, however, was that the scoreboard read “MSU: 67, Kansas: 64.”
“I was just trying to make plays that would help my team get over the hump and win the game,” Appling said.
The Detroit native’s first moment of the night was when he buried a 3-pointer to give MSU a 54-53 lead with 6:55 remaining in the game. That bucket gave MSU its first lead in the second half and bolstered the Spartans with enough energy to top the No. 7 Jayhawks.
Appling was not done for the night as he hit another 3-pointer with 1:36 in the game to give MSU a crucial 65-61 lead.
A 3-point play converted by Kansas then brought the game to 65-64, with MSU holding the ball with 50 seconds left.
Just like Batman reacting to the bat signal in the night sky, Appling responded to the scoreboard that showed MSU was holding on by a small thread.
With time expiring, Appling drove hard in the paint, dipped the ball and nailed a layup over 7-foot center and reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jeff Withey.
“The play was originally designed for us to get the ball down low, you know, because they had been doubling all night,” Appling said. “We wanted our bigs to make a decision because once the defense collapsed, the perimeter was wide open.
“Once they did that, they were able to kick the ball out to me and the lane was open so I drove. I had to maneuver the ball so (Withey) wouldn’t block it and I was able to get it up under the rim and it went in.”
Having a second half that contrasted so much from the first half is something that stemmed from what head coach Tom Izzo said in the locker room during half time.
“Coach told me that I wasn’t being aggressive coming off the ball screens. … I was just trying to make something happen as much as I could,” Appling said.
That clutch second half was enough to ice the game and give MSU the upset victory, as well as confirm Appling as one of the go-to players on the team.
“He probably wouldn’t have done that last year, so that was really exciting to perform in the way he can and come through in the clutch for us,” sophomore guard Russell Byrd said.
Byrd, who is a co-captain, would come in and work side by side in the gym with Appling over the offseason. Byrd also said that Appling, along with sophomore guard Branden Dawson, are getting better each year, but all that love from the captain wasn’t always apparent during the offseason.
“(Appling) was my right-hand man when it came to working out and being in the gym,” Byrd said.
“He would always push me and tell me that he worked harder than I did, so we always butted heads there.”
Not only is his late-game performance crucial in crunch time, but it also impacts the way young players, such as freshman guard Denzel Valentine, will approach the game.
“I like the way he comes out — how aggressive he is,” Valentine said.
“Just being aggressive and making the right plays is something I’ll be working on.”