EAST LANSING — It was around 11:15 p.m. and Michigan State had defeated Boise State 74-70 about 30 minutes earlier. All of the journalists were in the Michigan State locker room standing around and waiting for the man of the hour, or 40 minutes to be exact, who was nowhere to be found.
Finally, after about 15 minutes of waiting, Keith Appling quietly walks in the locker room, goes to his locker, and turns his back to the media as he takes a sip of Gatorade. He knew all of us pestering writers were waiting for him after his tremendous game in which he had 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists, and he jokingly took his time.
Appling set down his Gatorade looked over his left shoulder at the group of people holding recorders, cameras, pencils and pads, and smirked as he apologized for the inconvenience and sat down to answer questions.
The junior point guard from Detroit, Mich. is as humble as they come, and even after a great individual performance, and putting the team on his back in the final minutes of the Spartans close win, all he could think about is the team.
With 24 seconds left in the game the Spartans were leading Boise State 70-68 when head coach Tom Izzo called a timeout. The team huddled around Izzo as he looked at Appling and said, “Okay big boy, it’s time.”
Appling came out of the huddle, the offense cleared out, and he took his man to the bucket and converted on a layup plus a foul.
“I just knew he was putting the ball in my hands,” Appling said on Izzo’s comments in the huddle. “I had to make something happen for the team. Boise is a pretty good team, and I felt like if we didn’t convert they were going to come down and get a basket or a make a three or get a foul, but I was able to and that pretty much closed the game.”
In the past couple of weeks, Izzo has praised Appling’s dedication to the game in recent months and today was no different.
“I think he went from a guy that was stubborn and thought he was doing enough to a guy last spring that just figured it out and figured he wasn’t doing enough,” Izzo said. “He just worked his way. If you ask him, he’s probably put in more work in basketball in the last four months than he has in the last four years.”
Appling admits that his attitude towards the game has changed, and with the absence of former Spartan Draymond Green he knew that he would have to be more of a vocal leader.
“Personally, I feel I’ve grown more as far as communicating,” Appling answered when asked where he believed he made his biggest improvements from last year. “Last year I kind of hid behind’s Draymond’s voice a lot, but now that he’s gone I have to step up and say some things to help lead them through a course of a game.”
While Appling has noticeably improved his game vocally, it can’t go unnoticed how much his game has improved with the ball.
Appling has stepped up as the Spartans closer early on in the season. With two big shots late against Kansas in the Spartans 67-64 upset victory on Nov. 13 in the Champions Classic, the junior point guard hasn’t stop there.
In the final five minutes of tonight’s game, Appling scored eight points, including the clinching bucket which is mentioned above, an assist, and a steal.
“Keith has been working on his game a lot this summer,” sophomore Branden Dawson said. “He’s been coming in with no distractions, he’s mature this year. He’s our go-to guy, he’s clutch. He doesn’t force anything, he’s patient, and that what happens when you’re patient and you let things come to you, great things happen.”
Appling played all 40 minutes tonight for MSU, and with an injury to the team’s leading scorer Gary Harris — who hurt his shoulder early in the game and is supposedly out for at least a week– he will need to be even more aggressive on the offensive end of the court. Whether it’s scoring more or being a leader to the younger guys who will play in Harris’ absence, Appling will need to make sure that this team doesn’t skip a beat without their freshman stud.