Keith Appling has been one of Tom Izzo’s most consistent players at both ends of the floor for most of the season.
Often tasked with guarding some of the top players in the nation while leading the No. 9 MSU men’s basketball team (22-6 overall,11-4 Big Ten) in scoring, Appling has established himself among the most talented point guards in the country.
So during a stretch of inconsistent play and lackluster outings by the junior guard, it’s quickly becoming a cause for concern for Izzo and the Spartans.
“He’s growing as he goes,” Izzo said. “And when you start dealing with the pressure of the chance to win the Big Ten, the chance to do this, your name gets thrown around, the accolades go, everybody gets fat and sassy a little bit, or feels the pressure.
“It looks to me like he’s feeling a little bit of the pressure.”
Starting with a 4-for-14 (28.57 percent) shooting performance with a single assist in the Feb. 12 win against No. 4Michigan, Appling has averaged nine points in the past four games, shooting an abysmal 23 percent from the floor during the stretch.
In the most recent weekend loss to No. 16 Ohio State, Appling made just one shot, totaling three points and a single assistwith three turnovers. Moreover, Appling struggled against Buckeye guard Aaron Craft, who racked up a career-high 21points coming primarily though layups in the lane.
It’s been a difficult run for Appling, who averages 13.4 points per contest on 40.5 percent shooting to go along with a team-high 106 assists — 35 more than the next highest Spartan, freshman guard Denzel Valentine.
But as much as Appling has struggled, Izzo said the stretch stands out because of how well he’s played for the majority of the season — a testament to the point guard’s abilities.
With nearly four days before MSU travels to Ann Arbor for a season rematch with the No. 4 Wolverines, Izzo said he plans to talk with Appling this week to figure out what he needs to improve heading into postseason play.
“We’re just going to talk about where he thinks he is,” Izzo said. “Does he need some time off? Does he need some time to get in and shoot free throws and shoot jump shots and get some confidence back? I mean you don’t lose everything in two
During the weekend’s loss to the Buckeyes, sophomore guard/forward Branden Dawson expressed a distinct irritation with his play, at one point kicking a water bottle when he was removed from the game.
Dawson was relatively ineffective in 25 minutes of play, finishing with eight points and three rebounds in a losing affair.
However, Izzo took offense to a question about Dawson’s frustration during his weekly press conference, indicating the sophomore guard/forward was upset about the way he’s playing recently rather than the fact he was taken out of the game.
Coming up on the one-year anniversary of Dawson tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), Izzo said Dawson still is trying to recapture the game that made him so sensational as a freshman.
“Branden Dawson is frustrated,” Izzo said. “He can’t do the things that he is used to doing. I can’t say it enough. You never see him go in and dunk the ball like he did last year. That in itself tells you that he is probably not where he needs to be.”