EAST LANSING — After missing three straight games with a wrist injury, Michigan State senior point guard Keith Appling returned to limited action in the Spartans’ 60-51 loss to Nebraska.
Appling — who was a game-time decision — started the game on the bench for Michigan State. And with the way the Spartans opened the game, they could have used a healthy Appling more than ever.
The 6-foot-1 score-first point guard turned floor general is best known for his ability to attack the rim and perimeter defense. Finishing at the rim and lackluster perimeter defense are the two things that led to Michigan State’s sluggish start against the Cornhuskers, and not having Appling at 100 percent didn’t help the Spartans’ chances.
Nebraska started the game on a 13-4 run, and with Appling’s replacement Travis Trice picking up an early foul, Appling saw his first action since Feb. 1 against Georgetown with about 15:26 left to play in the first half.
“We decided after warm-ups that we were going to try and play him some,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “He tried to do what he could do, but when you don’t practice for two, two-and-half weeks, when you’re not a skill guy it’s easier, but if you’re a skill guy, it’s a little harder.”
The Spartans went on a 5-0 run during the almost four minutes that Appling was on the floor, and the senior got Michigan State’s first steal of the game during that period.
Appling returned with 8:49 remaining after Trice received his second foul. With 7:24 left, Appling caught a backdoor-lob pass from Matt Costello to grab his first, and last, points of the game.
Appling finished the half as the Spartans’ point guard while Trice was on the bench due to foul trouble. During that almost nine-minute period, he got an assist and three rebounds to go with his two points.
“Like anything, we wanted to just get to him (Appling), pressure him,” Nebraska head coach Tim Miles said about Appling, who had one turnover in the first half. “Just because maybe rust more than anything. Sitting out a few games, I was more concerned about rust than how healthy is hand was.”
As the game went on, Appling’s rust became more evident. He entered the game in the second half with 17:24 remaining, and within four minutes, Appling had a turnover and shot an air ball from the corner.
“That was my first one,” Appling said on his missed 3-point shot. “It felt better than it looked.”
Appling went out again with 11:41 left in the game and didn’t return until 2:07 remained. The Spartans found themselves trailing 54-51 at that time, and 18 seconds after entering the game, Appling picked up his second foul and went back to the bench — where he sat for the rest of the game.
Appling — who practiced a little two days before the game — only played 19 minutes, and despite the loss, it was important that he got comfortable again sooner rather than later.
“I felt like myself defensively, that’s like a riding a bike,” Appling said. “That will never go away. But I didn’t feel like myself offensively. I just got to keep getting in and getting more reps in practice and I should be fine.”
Appling finished with two points, three rebounds, two turnovers and an assist, but more importantly, he played in a game without any more complications to his wrist.
“There was a little soreness,” Appling said, “but nothing I can’t play through.”