Spartans At Halfway

Across the first half of the Big Ten season, reporters take key picks


Well, this has been fun so far. Taking a nine-day break between conference games, the Spartans now are halfway through the behemoth Big Ten season. Basketball reporters Zach Smith and Matt Sheehan analyze the ups and downs for MSU halfway through the Spartans’ hopeful conference title journey.

–Matt Sheehan and Zach Smith, The State News

Matt Sheehan
Performance of the season
Keith Appling vs. Ohio State (72-68 OT, Jan. 7)

Julia Nagy / The State News

In a game where a sloppy finish grabbed all the attention, MSU’s senior point guard was the reason Sparty scrapped out the win.

Appling lit up the Buckeyes for 20 points, including a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left in overtime that ended up being the game-winning shot.

He also finished the game with seven assists, six rebounds and a hard fall on his back to go along with his hurting wrist.

Game of the season
At Iowa (71-69 OT, Jan. 28)

This game truly showed why MSU is heralded as one of the nation’s best teams. It wasn’t just sophomore guard Gary Harris and Appling carrying MSU in the tough atmosphere in Iowa City, Iowa — it was the whole team.

Matt Costello posted his first double-double, Travis Trice drained crucial 3-pointers and Denzel Valentine did everything but sweep the floor after the game.

Oh, and junior guard Russell Byrd won the game on a velvet-smooth 3-pointer in overtime, just in case you forgot.

Letdown of the season
Injuries to Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne

It isn’t any player’s stat line that has been a disappointment for the Spartans, but rather the injuries sidelining Payne and Dawson.

It’s those injuries making MSU fans say “What if?” after nearly every game, including in its loss against Michigan.

There is no reason for MSU fans to be upset at the duo — humans do get hurt, after all — but it seems like the injury bug is constantly keeping the Spartans from rolling out their best possible team onto the court.

Surprise performer of the season

Keith Appling

Everyone knew Appling was a key in MSU’s offense before this season, but who would have thought he would arguably be the biggest offensive weapon?

Here is how much Appling has grown as a player since last season. His 3-point shooting percentage is 8 percent higher.

He’s only 12 assists away from hitting 120, his season total from last year. He’s scored 20 or more points in seven games.

Zach Smith

Performance of the season
Gary Harris at Indiana

Harris has been a scoring machine for the entire Big Ten season, but his skills were best on display when MSU traveled to Indiana to take on the Hoosiers on Jan. 4.

Harris set a new career-high at the time and helped the Spartans roll to a 73-56 win in just the second Big Ten game of the year.

This was the game that Harris first looked like he had fully recovered from a bum ankle hampering him during the first two months of the season.

Game of the season

Ohio State at MSU, Jan. 7

It was a huge game in primetime and featured two of the top five teams in the country at the time.

Not only did the Spartans show what they’re really made of, but it was the game when head coach Tom Izzo really found out who he could count on.

Seniors Appling and Payne scored 20 and 18 points, respectively, and carried the Spartans to a 72-68 overtime win.

Letdown of the season
Branden Dawson

Dawson was the player that could take the Spartans to the next level.

He had a disappointing start to the season, but looked like he was turning things around once the Big Ten schedule rolled around.

He had a couple good scoring games and a few good games on the glass, but couldn’t keep up the consistency. Now his broken hand adds to an already frustrating season.

Surprise performer of the season
The freshman class

The members of the MSU freshman class haven’t been super scorers like some other diaper dandies around the country, but they have played a big role.

Forward Gavin Schilling has been forced to grow up quicker than he might have been ready to, but he’s done a nice job when called upon and is one of three players to play in every game this season.

Guard Alvin Ellis III has played some big minutes since Dawson went down, and hit a couple big 3-pointers against U-M.

Redshirt freshman forward Kenny Kaminski has connected on 45.2 percent of his shots from 3-point range.

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