It took less than five minutes for the MSU men’s basketball team to see what life would be like without Keith Appling.
It wasn’t pretty.
The junior guard picked up two fouls early in the first half, helping the Ramblers generate a 14-0 run to take a halftime lead into the locker room before a furious Spartans comeback helped MSU stay undefeated at home this season.
The No. 19 MSU men’s basketball team (8-2) overcame foul trouble to both of its point guards to knock off a relentless Loyola-Chicago (6-3) 73-61 Saturday afternoon, behind a career-high 20
points from freshman guard Gary Harris.
“It was awful, man. I’ve never had to sit out that long of a half since I’ve been here,” Appling said.
“It was kind of tough but … when I got back in I just tried to get other people involved and make the offense flow.”
Harris was the beneficiary, knocking down five 3-pointers, and credited the passing of Appling, who finished with seven assists, and senior center Derrick Nix for helping him succeed.
“It was big,” Harris said of Appling’s early foul trouble.
“Keith is the heart of our team offensively and defensively and we all look to him. With him out of the game it was kind of different because we’re used to Keith playing the whole game.”
A fast break basket from Harris gave MSU the lead for good 37-36 with 16:46 to go, and three consecutive 3-pointers from Harris gave MSU its first double-digit lead with 11:47 remaining, but Loyola-Chicago refused to go away.
The Ramblers responded with an 8-0 run to cut MSU’s lead to three points, and stayed within seven points for most of the second half until a 3-pointer from freshman guard Denzel Valentine put MSU in front 63-53 with 4:24 remaining, all but sealing the game.
After spraining his shoulder nearly three weeks ago, Harris had been wearing a protective brace on his shoulder, but after not experiencing any pain in practice this week, Harris decided to play without it for the first time and did so with success.
Head coach Tom Izzo said he isn’t sure Harris understands how good a player he could become.
“I challenged Harris a couple times when he came out, and I think the greatest thing I learned today was that he responds,” Izzo said.
“He has a chance to be a great player and tonight I thought he started getting his feet ready. People are starting to get a feel for one another.”
Teaming with Harris to push the Spartans in front was junior center Adreian Payne, who finished with his second double-double in the past three games.
Payne finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Harris said Payne’s energy off the bench has become a game-changer for this team.
“He’s just playing with a lot more energy. He’s everywhere defensively and offensively he’s getting everything off the rim,” Harris said.
“He’s just playing a lot more aggressively and with a lot more energy and he’s an energy type guy, so when he plays like that you can see the results you get.”
Sophomore guard Travis Trice said the Spartans can learn a lot from the back-and-forth flow of the game and what MSU will need to do to continue to come out on top.
“There’s a couple times where we would pull away and we’d go on a run and they’d come back with a run of their own and it seemed like we were going back-and-forth for a while until the very end,” Trice said.
“I think our thing is withstanding other team’s runs and pushing forward.”