MSU Basketball: Hobbled seniors lead Spartans to OT victory

EAST LANSING — Wounded and all, Michigan State seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne muscled their way through 45 minutes of basketball to help lead the fifth-ranked Spartans to a 72-68 victory over third-ranked Ohio State tonight.

With junior backup point guard Travis Trice already out due to an illness, the handicapped Spartans (14-1, 3-0) became even more vulnerable prior to the tip-off when Payne said he was suffering from what he believes to be a “right foot sprain” and was listed as “very questionable.”

It was clear early that Payne — who started the game on the bench — wasn’t himself as he was often slow running up and down the court and sluggish with his movements in the post. But as the first half went on, he was getting more comfortable.

The Spartans and Buckeyes (15-1, 2-1) traded buckets for a large portion of the first half, but as halftime was nearing, it was Payne’s back-to-back jumpers in the closing minutes that helped MSU basketball bust its lead open to seven before the half.

“My two seniors were both hurt,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “There’s no way Payne… I get to the building and he’s  (Payne) not playing. Doctors took him up here, worked him out a little bit, and I said ‘Don’t warm up,’ and he didn’t warm up. I said, ‘See if the adrenaline gets going when the game starts.’ He said he wanted to play.

I was really pleased with my two seniors. I’m watching Appling’s leg tighten up like a rock right in front of my eyes starting in the first half. He just sucked it up.”

With little help on the bench, Appling — who played all but two minutes in the first half — scored eight of his game-high 20 points in the second half and orchestrated the Spartans as they got their lead up to 17 points with 8:02 remaining in the game. However, after a turnover by Appling, which was followed by a media timeout, the Buckeyes began to chip away at the lead.

As the game went on, the Spartans’ offense became stagnant due to the cramps that Appling was suffering from and not having Trice at their disposal, and the Buckeyes put MSU on the ropes and went to town as they went on a 20-3 to end regulation and force an overtime.

“I guess it was sort of our fault, but it was nobody’s fault,” Izzo said on his team giving up a 17-point lead. “Keith couldn’t go. Both legs were cramped up, they’re (trainers) working on him every minute, I mean, he couldn’t get open to save his life.”

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and senior point guard Keith Appling.

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and senior point guard Keith Appling.

And while Ohio State was entering OT with momentum completely in its favor, it was the seniors along with inexperienced redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski that ignited the crowd and gave MSU the lift it needed.

Kaminski — who stepped in for sophomore Denzel Valentine after he fouled out — gave the Spartans their first field goal in OT, and a 62-60 lead,  when he knocked down a big-time 3-pointer that was created by penetration from Appling — the biggest of his seven assists.

“I trust my teammates,” Kaminski said. “I know Keith isn’t a selfish player at all. He’s made tremendous changes from previous years to this year. We have so many weapons on the team I just know that if I play basketball and stay in the flow of the game it’s going to come to me eventually.”

The Spartans followed that up with another 3-ball, however, this time it was Payne, still in pain, who showed his leadership and hit the clutchest three of his 18 points with 2:22 remaining, and gave Michigan State a 65-61 lead.

“That’s what leaders do,” Payne said. “They try to find a way to inspire their team and make sure they keep going. It’s a big game and if I were  to sit out then they would probably feel some type of way, so I had to find a way to make sure they felt they were ready to go. Wth me dressing, going out there, warming up with them they felt better. With me out there on the court they felt better and they played better. That’s one way of me showing them I am a leader.”

However, once again, the scrappy Buckeyes fought their way back as an Aaron Craft layup and a Sam Thompson 3-pointer tied the game at 66-66 with 1:10 remaining in the game. As time dwindled, Izzo, with a little help from his senior point guard, decided not to call a timeout after the made OSU basket, and let his team play.

“I kind of waved him off and told him ‘We don’t need a timeout’,” Appling said. “I got to give him credit for having that trust in me and not calling a timeout and letting us make something happen.”

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Appling, after struggling to make anything happen in the final seven minutes of regulation, showed that his coach made the right decision by knocking down a contested 3-point shot at the top of the key with 29 seconds remaining to give the Spartans a 69-66 lead.

“I work on my shot every day,” Appling said. “The moment it left my hands I felt like it was going in.”

Ohio State was able to shorten the lead once again when Marc Loving hit two free throws after a Gary Harris foul, but it was Appling who sealed the deal with three free throws in the final 15 seconds.

“You want to write a story?,” Izzo said. “Write it on his (Appling) character and his heart because he sucked it up, and so did Adreian.”

The victory gave Michigan State its second top-5 victory this season, and despite blowing a 17-point lead, the win gives the Spartans an important Big Ten victory against a talented team that was going to fight until the end.

“We got to take it for what it is right now,” Appling said. “I’m pretty sure nobody is feeling great about it because we had a 20-point lead and the opportunity to make a statement. Those guys did a great job of fighting back into it, so we got to tip my hat off to them and give them some credit for that.”

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