During Michigan State’s 84-39 thrashing of Nicholls State Saturday, junior guard Keith Appling had the opportunity to do something he hasn’t done so much of lately.
With the Spartans up big and Michigan State coasting to victory, Appling, a 6’1” guard from Detroit, Michigan, strolled over to his team’s bench, high-fived his teammates and then finally did something we haven’t seen much, he took a seat.
The game served as somewhat of a break for Appling. He played in only 28 minutes, a low mark for him (coming in he was averaging nearly 36). Appling once again led the Spartans to victory, directing the offense out on the floor, scoring 13 points and dishing out 6 assists against lowly Nicholls State.
This game also served as the continuation and reiteration of a fact that has become all too clear for Michigan State: Keith Appling is the man. Over the course of the beginning of this short season, he has developed into the unquestioned leader of this team and one of the nation’s best point guards.
It all started when he willed his team to victory in a win against Kansas, when Appling scored 19 points in 38 minutes, including hitting an acrobatic layup late over 7 footer Jeff Withey to help secure a 67-64 victory.
It continued a week later when he played all 40 minutes of a game against Boise State, a game in which he finished with 22 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds.This time Appling helped Michigan State secure victory late when he hung across the lane, was fouled, hit a shot and subsequently converted on the and-1 opportunity that followed.
“Keith Appling was the man,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said of Appling after the Boise win. “He did an unbelievable job. Down the stretch, he was our true go-to guy.”
What came next for Appling were games of 38, 38, and 33 minutes and culminating with Saturday’s win against Nicholls State.
With all these games of playing so many minutes and really taking over the leadership role of this team, some question whether Appling can handle the pressure.
“I don’t really believe in pressure,” Appling said. “Pressure is only what you make. I feel like every basketball player wants to play the whole game. They don’t want to come out of the game. I’m not going to sit here and say I don’t want to play the minutes that coach is playing me. I’m comfortable being out there every second of the game.”
But can people really play the whole game on a consistent basis? They have to take a rest at some point right? For Appling, he believes he has plenty of breaks throughout the game.
“Coach uses his timeouts wisely,” he said. “I get my breaks there, get some sips of water. TV timeouts, free throw situations, all that works in my favor.”
It is clear that Appling is very mentally tough and he is willing to put this team on his back night in night out. His coaches stand behind him as well and believe in that toughness.
“One thing I don’t worry about is that is one tough hombre,” Izzo said of Appling after he returned from a rolled ankle to score 20 points in 38 minutes against Oakland. “I love that about Appling. He’s tougher than nails.”
Eight games into the season, Appling is off to the best start of his career. He is leading the team in points (16.1), and assists (4.4) all the while playing nearly 35 minutes a contest.
Down the road, Michigan State is going to continue to need Appling’s stellar play to move forward and improve as the season wears on.
Up next for the Spartans and Appling, they will take on Arkansas Pine-Bluff (1-6) on Wednesday at 8 PM.
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