In a game that went back and forth all night, the Spartans showed amazing poise under pressure and managed to surmount a five point deficit late in the second half. Reason that the Spartans were able to take down such a worthy opponent? Two words: Keith Appling. The one-time greenhorn from last year’s NCAA Tournament showed that he’s ready to be the leader for the Spartans after chalking up a game high of 19 points. When the Spartan offense looked stagnant and no one could get open, it was Appling who found a way to drive to the lane. When shooters like Brandan Kerney went down low and got themselves in trouble, Appling was there, ready to pull the trigger from behind the arc. What is even more impressive, is that he did this all without his back-up: Travis Trice. Trice missed the game last night with concussion-like symptoms, causing Appling to bear the load by himself as he played 38 minutes.
Still, Keith Appling isn’t the only member of the Michigan State backcourt that contributed offensively. Freshman Gary Harris shook off a poor shooting performance from last game and put up 18 points against Rock Chalk, going 7 for 12 shots in the process. U of M rivals Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. may need to look over their shoulder this season, because the Michigan State backcourt could give them a run for their money as the best guard tandem in the Big Ten Conference.
Branden Dawson also contributed 12 points to the win while a surprising six points came from reserve forward Alex Gauna.
"We got a little bit of our pride and character back after not playing well over there," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "The trip wasn't easy. It shows we have a lot of character.”
What may end up being overlooked by most spectators and pundits is the credit of the interior defense of Michigan State. The premier player for Kansas is their seven-foot senior center, James Withey. This All-Conference athlete was held in check over the entire course of the game, only scoring eight points and getting in to foul trouble early. Adreian Payne showed the athleticism to contest everything going on in the paint, and Nix acted as a rock that Withey couldn’t get through.
"Nix is a big guy, that's for sure," Withey said. "He's really strong. He's tough to guard."
Although there are quite a number of positives to take away from last night’s game, Tom Izzo’s squads in recent years seem to have turnovers be prevalent in every big game they play. Sparty finished with a lackluster assist to turnover ratio of .73 (11 assists to 15 turnovers), a number that needs to be improved upon before entering Big Ten play. They may need to look more to Denzel Valentine as the season progresses, a freshman who Tom Izzo calls his best passer and a kid who made some incredible passes last night.
Michigan State will finally get some well deserved rest and an easier matchup when they host Texas Southern University on November 18th.
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