EAST LANSING — Freshman Gary Harris scored 15 points and added four assists to help lead the No. 12 Michigan State Spartans to a 61-50 victory over No. 18 Minnesota.
Harris, who has been dealing with back issues since last Thursday’s victory over Illinois, was a game-time decision, and according to his head coach, put together one of the “guttier” performances he has witnessed at Michigan State.
“That kid showed me some character and some heart,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo said about his ailing freshman guard. “I just kept asking him if he could go, and thank God he is smart enough to say yes.”
Harris shot 4-of-8 from beyond the arc, and while he showed glimpses of pain, he knew that staying on the floor was the best thing for him and his team.
“I didn’t want to come out because I knew if I came out it (his back) was going to get worse, it was going to get locked up, it was going to get tight,” Harris said. “I just wanted to stay on the court as much as possible and keep it as loose as possible.”
Harris along with backcourt mate Keith Appling were the only Spartans to really get going on the offensive end in the first half, as they combined for 12 of MSU’s 18 points. Izzo’s ball club shot 6-of-25 from the field in the first half.
The Spartans (19-4, 8-2) trailed going into the half 20-18, however, while their play in the opening 20 minutes was very ugly, they didn’t commit a turnover, something that’s not very common in East Lansing.
“I don’t think that’s ever happened in the 30 years I’ve been here,” Izzo said.
While Minnesota (17-6, 5-5) went into the half leading the Spartans by two, they tried to mimic MSU on the offensive end, but barely failed (which in this case is a good thing), as they shot 8-of-21 from the field.
MSU came out in the second half much differently than they ended the first half, as they scored on their first six possessions, and took a 33-29 lead with 14:44 left to play.
With 9:57 left, sophomore Branden Dawson jumped the passing lane on a Oto Osenieks pass and finished with a strong one-handed dunk to give the Spartans a 12 point lead — their largest of the night.
Minnesota was able to cut the MSU lead to four with 2:49 left, but an Appling layup followed by an Appling steal, which led to a Harris layup, allowed the Spartans to extend their lead back to double-digits.
However, as Michigan State was beginning to get comfortable and close out the game, with 1:17 left, Appling grabbed Joe Coleman’s arm in an attempt to receive an inbound pass and popped out his right shoulder in the process.
Appling immediately went to the locker room, and the Breslin Center went from ecstatic to somber in a matter of seconds.
With under a minute to play, and the Spartans looking to win their 14th straight home game, Appling jogged back to the Michigan State bench, and the Breslin Center got as loud as it had been all night.
“I was happy as heck to see him,” Izzo said.
Before the abrupt ending to Appling’s night, the junior finished the game with 14 points (3-of-4 from downtown), four rebounds and three assists.
Appling said that he was “scared” when the injury occurred because he had never experienced an injury like that before.
The junior seemed to be doing a lot better after the game than many expected, especially after seeing his grimacing reaction when the injury occured.
“Right now I’m fine,” Appling said in the locker room after the victory. “It’s just sore. I’m sure I’ll be alright in the morning.”
If Harris’ back injury, Travis Trice’s concussion symptoms (sat out tonight’s game) and Appling’s shoulder aren’t enough for Tom Izzo and his coaching staff to handle, Dawson and junior Adreian Payne suffered injuries in the game as well.
According to Izzo, Payne was sent to the locker room in the middle of the second half to try and control a bloody nose he suffered after getting hit. Izzo believes that there is a chance that his nose could be broken. Dawson injured his ankle and was forced to miss several possessions.
“That just goes to show how physical the Big Ten is,” Appling said. “Everybody’s getting a little banged up. We just got to suck it up.”
Well, the Spartans will have to aid to these injuries a little faster than usual because they play two games in the next six days and one of those games is a big time matchup against the Michigan Wolverines next Tuesday.