Tuesday night was senior night at Breslin Center.
No, not the annual celebration of seniors playing their last game in front of a home crowd – this senior night was much more painful.
“My two seniors are both hurt,” head coach Tom Izzo said after his team’s 72-68 victory over No. 3 Ohio State.
“I’m watching (Keith) Appling’s limp tighten up like a rock right in front of my eyes in the first half, and he just sucked it up.”
Hours before the game, Payne was in tears at Breslin Center because he was all but certain his sprained foot would have him sidelined for the prime time, ESPN-televised match-up. Throughout the season Appling has racked up so many injuries in various parts of the body, even a crash dummy wouldn’t want to trade places with him.
But they played on, fighting the injuries and combining for 38 points to lead MSU in the roller coaster game that saw a 17-point lead vanish in the final eight minutes of the game.
If it wasn’t for Payne, who nailed one of the team’s three 3-pointers in overtime, MSU likely does not win the game.
And if it wasn’t for a chat with an old coach and seeing the look on Izzo’s face before the game, Payne likely does not play.
“I called my high school coach and talked to him,” Payne said. “And after that (Izzo) came in here and talked to me, and I was like ‘I don’t think I can go.”
In that conversation with his former high school coach, Payne said he told him “If I couldn’t go, then don’t go, but if I could go, then go.” However, the shots and medical tape given by the trainers wasn’t making him feel confident he can play – until he walked into the locker room before the game.
“Once I got down (to the locker room), I could tell that coach (Izzo) was emotional,” Payne said. “You could just tell he was worried a little bit about what was going on with my foot, and I just told him ‘I’m going to give it a shot.’”
Payne kicked off the game shooting 0-of-4 from the field, but started clicking on all cylinders from that point on as he shot 7-of-10 after the sluggish start. However, while Payne was heating up at the end of the half, Appling’s legs started to cramp up.
Even when his calves started to cramp during the first half, Appling knew resting on the sidelines simply wasn’t an option.
“Due to the given situation, I had to suck it up and fight through it,” Appling, who played 43 minutes, said. “I just tried to drink a lot of water and Gatorade, and the trainer tried to massage the cramps out of my calves, but it didn’t work, but you have to fight through it.”
That fight with his own calves propelled MSU to a victory, burying a 3-pointer when the game was tied at 66 with 1:10 remaining in overtime. The long ball was the final blow to the Buckeyes, who never took the lead in the last 70 seconds of the game and sent MSU with a thrilling, yet bittersweet win after melting down in the final minutes of regulation.
“I’m pretty sure no one feels great about it,” Appling said. “I mean we had a 20-point lead (sic), and those guys did a great job … but at the same time it’s a Big Ten win, but over the No. 3 ranked team in the country.”