Despite turning the ball over to the opposition a mind-boggling 17 times and missing the services of several key players, the No. 5 Michigan State Spartans (8-1) still found a way to escape with a victory over the Oakland Golden Grizzlies (2-9), 67-63.
Of the Spartans that missed the game on Saturday, sophomore guard Gary Harris sat with a sprained ankle, sophomore forward Matt Costello, mononucleosis, while redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski sat because of poor grades.
In the early going of the first half of Saturday’s contest at the Palace of Auburn Hills, even without a few players, it was still clear that Michigan State was the better, more athletic team on the floor.
However, despite this, Oakland was the team that wanted it more.
And it showed.
Numerous turnovers from the Michigan State side, coupled with Oakland’s tenacious play had the Grizzlies out to a 20-12 lead with less than 9 minutes to go in the half.
From there, Michigan State limited their turnovers to the end of the half, managing to cut the Oakland lead to just one at the break, 31-30.
In the second half, things continued to be played pretty close, with neither team able to gain much of an upper hand.
And while Michigan State more-or-less contained Grizzly sharp-shooter Travis Bader to just 5-20 shooting and 18 points, senior Oakland guard Duke Mondy just absolutely carved up the Michigan State defense and offense all afternoon long to the tune of 24 points, 6 rebounds and 7 steals.
And with 7:45 to play and Oakland trailing Michigan State, 50-47, Mondy stepped up and drilled a three to tie things up at 50 a piece.
“I give Mondy a lot of credit,” MSU head basketball coach Tom Izzo said. “He led the nation in steals last year…He made some shots…And Mondy took it to us and that’s one of the reasons (Denzel) didn’t play so much, he was getting his tail kicked by him.”
However, after a timeout called by Izzo, the Spartans came out and reeled off eight straight points, a spurt led by MSU senior point guard Keith Appling, who started the run with a 3-pointer, kept things going with a steal and assist to Branden Dawson, and finished it off with an and-1 fast break layup to put the Spartans up 58-50 with 5:23 to play.
It was a big stretch for Appling, who struggled mightily in the first half with just 3 points and 4 turnovers.
“I knew I had to be more aggressive,” Appling said of his change of play in the second half. ”I just wanted to make things happen for myself and my teammates.”
And while this seemed like a time many Spartan fans were thinking about a potential pull-away time, Oakland continued to fight its way back into the game, that is until a deep Travis Trice three to put the Spartans up 63-56 with 2:14 to go, a play that Oakland head coach Greg Kampe very well could have been the nail in the coffin.
“I think Trice’s three was the back-breaker,” Kampe said. “That was outside the NBA 3-point line and that was with one second on the shot clock.”
From there, Appling iced the game from the free throw line down the stretch, giving the Spartans the win, 67-63.
Michigan State was led by senior center Adreian Payne (20 points, 10 rebounds), and also saw nice games from a pair of guys who had combined for 9 turnovers in the first half: Appling and Branden Dawson.
Appling finished with 21 points while Dawson rebounded from having potentially one of the worst games of his career against North Carolina to finish with 16 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals against the Grizzlies.
“I thought that Dawson answered the bell a little bit,” Izzo said. “We got after him pretty good and give that kid credit, he responded…There is no question he played like I know he can.”
Up next up for the MSU Basketball team, they’ll return home to the Breslin Center on Tuesday, Dec. 17 to take on North Florida (5-6). Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 PM ET and will be televised on Big Ten Network.