In the midst of the No. 1 Michigan State basketball team once again struggling to a lesser foe at home Monday night, MSU senior guard Keith Appling found a way to lead the Spartans past Portland, 82-67.
Appling was by far the best player on the court all night long, finishing the game with a game-high 25 points, 7 assists in 38 minutes of action, including going 5-5 from 3-point land.
Senior center Adreian Payne chipped in with 19 points and 7 rebounds while sophomore guard Gary Harris added 15 points.
But in the end, it was all about Appling.
“You got to give a lot of credit to Keith,” Michigan State head basketball coach Tom Izzo said of his point guard’s play Monday night. “To me, that was one of the greatest point guard performances in many, many, many years.”
To start the night out, Appling came out absolutely on fire, going 4-4 from three to finish the half with 16 points. His play likely carried the Spartans in that first half, as Michigan State once again came out very flat, jacking up three-pointer after three-pointer, all the while being out-played in the paint.
All these things led to Portland hanging around for a very long time, as Michigan State took just a 36-32 lead into the break.
In the second half, things continued to stay knotted up for quite some time, as every time the Spartans appeared to be pulling away. Portland found a way to claw themselves back into it.
However, the turning point of the game came with 12:26 to go. It was then that Michigan State junior guard Travis Trice provided a spark when he hit a three in the corner, assisted by Appling, and then followed that play up with a steal and a fast break layup to put the Spartans up 51-46.
And while Trice may have created the spark, Appling certainly carried the torch, helping Michigan State go on a run from there to pull away from Portland and eventually close out the pesky Pilots, 82-67.
“He had a heck of a performance,” Harris said of Appling’s play. “He did it all. He’s the leader of our team and we go as he goes.”
In addition to his big game Monday night, Appling also showed his ability to do something else, and that’s lead, something that has been questioned of him ever since he stepped foot on campus his freshman year.
“I’m just a lot more comfortable with demanding things out of my teammates and just running the team and that’s starting to carry over and it shows with my play,” Appling said.
And as for the No. 1 ranking the Spartans lay claim right now, Appling says he doesn’t pay much attention to it and that they’re still focused on other things.
“I don’t think it means nothing,” Appling said. “It’s great that people out there respect us as a team and respect our program but right now that wasn’t one of our goals coming into the season. We’ve got other things we want to accomplish and we still gotta get better as a team.”
Next up for the MSU Basketball team (4-0), they’ll travel to Brooklyn to take on the Virginia Tech Hokies (3-1) in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Tip off is scheduled for 9:30 PM ET and will be televised on truTV.