Spartans take down Illinois in hard-fought home win
Junior center Adreian Payne dunks Jan. 31, 2013, during the game against Illinois at Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Fighting Illini 80-75. Julia Nagy/The State News
Keith Appling knew the implication of what had happened.
Having been in foul trouble for much of the night, the junior guard fouled out in the second half of Sunday’s game against Indiana, forcing the No. 13 Spartans go down to the wire with one of the nation’s top teams without their floor general.
Following the 75-70 loss, Appling apologized to his teammates, understanding the difference in the game if he were on the floor instead of being relegated to the bench.
It certainly was a lesson Appling applied during Thursday’s game against Illinois.
Appling was the catalyst of a second half run that carried the No. 13 Spartans (18-4 overall, 7-2 Big Ten) past a sluggish start to earn the 80-75 victory over Illinois (15-7, 2-6) on Thursday at Breslin Center.
Appling flirted with a triple-double in the contest, finishing with a game-high 24 points, seven assists and eight rebounds in the winning effort.
Freshman guards Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine along with sophomore guard/forward Branden Dawson each finished scoring in double figures for the game.
The Spartans opened the game with four turnovers within the first three minutes, which Illinois used to come out of the gates on a 8-0 run.
The run was dotted by a pair of 3-pointers from the Illini, who have attempted more perimeter shots than any team in the Big Ten.
However, a 3-point play coming on a hard layup by Harris started the progression of an 8-2 run to halt an otherwise slow start.
After a Harris 3-pointer brought the game within one nearing the midway point of the half, Illinois peppered the Spartans with a 14-5 run to go ahead by 10.
The Spartans continued to claw back and found themselves within three points with less than three minutes to play in the half.
But the Illini finished the half strong on a 7-0 run to take a 10-point lead into the locker room.
However, the second half was a much different story for the Spartans.
A 3-pointer by Harris capped a 14-0 run to open the half, allowing the Spartans to take their first lead of the evening.
The Spartans opened the half hitting 6-of-7 shots, and it was enough to get the crowd fired up after a sluggish start.
Despite not having a field goal for the first six minutes of the second half, the Illini used multiple sets of free throws — including a trio by guard D.J. Richardson on a Valentine foul — to keep the Spartans on their heels.
But the Spartans kept the pressure on as part of a 24-6 start to the half.
With Illinois threatening late, Appling found Dawson on a smooth alley-oop to ignite the crowd and all but seal the game for the Spartans.
Appling dotted his standout performance with a layup with 45 seconds to play to give the Spartans a six-point lead and a win.