The buzzer sounded as the ball miraculously floated through the net.
As Keith Appling made his way back down the floor after beating the shot clock with an unexpected circus shot, he shook his head, smiled at the referee and began smacking his wrists. It was Appling’s not-so-subtle way of telling the official he was getting hit on the arms all game long.
That’s what happens when you go against Aaron Craft.
Appling’s battle with the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year was Saturday’s marquee matchup when the Spartans and Buckeyes tangled at Breslin Center.
In the game’s final moments, it was Appling scoring the Spartans final six points to lift MSU to a critical 59-56 victory, highlighted by the go-ahead layup, which featured a hard crossover of Craft, leaving Ohio State’s star guard off balance.
It was a moment Ohio State head coach Thad Matta described as one of the game’s biggest plays.
“That’s just the competitive nature inside,” Appling said. “I’m a competitive player and each and every time I get the opportunity I’m going to try to attack my defender to keep him honest — it’s as simple as that.
“Aaron Craft is a tough competitor. He plays hard for 40 minutes, and I love going against him because he makes me better each and every time we play.”
After the game, Tom Izzo joked that he doesn’t know if anyone should enjoy playing against Craft, but on Monday he said Appling’s competitive nature helped land him a new role for the No. 13 MSU men’s basketball team — captain.
At his weekly press conference, the Spartans’ head coach said he decided Sunday evening that Appling would join senior center Derrick Nix and sophomore guard Russell Byrd as the team’s third captain, an idea initially sparked by Byrd about a month ago.
Appling was informed of the news Monday morning.
Izzo stressed that going forward, his junior guard will have to expand his role beyond leading by his actions, adding more of a vocal approach.
Appling leads the team in scoring and ranks among the top five in the Big Ten in assists, but in the past few weeks, Izzo said he’s seen indications of a change in character for his starting point guard.
“Keith is my hardest practicer, so he has earned it with his work, but he wasn’t going to get it with his work (alone) because then it is just lead by example,” Izzo said. “I need it both ways and I think right now he’s making progress the other way, so I think the kids have confidence in him.
“He’s huddling guys up, he’s doing better things and for me it’s as exciting as a guy becoming a better player. In my mind he’s becoming better at dealing with the real world.”