Appling lead No. 19 Spartans over Lehigh 90-81

Brett Reed knew the challenge Lehigh faced against Michigan
State. So did his players – and they nearly did more than simply
putting a scare into the Spartans on Thursday night.

It took a second-half surge, improved free three throw shooting
and dominant rebounding for 19th-ranked Michigan State to claim its
11th win in a row, 90-81 over the Mountain Hawks.

”I’m proud of the fight we put forward,” Reed said. ”I
thought we played together. I thought we hustled. And we tried to
make the right plays. … In order to win this game, we would’ve
had to play near-perfect.”

Holden Greiner was 8 for 12 from the field and had 24 points for
the Mountain Hawks (9-4), winners on nine of their previous 10.
C.J. McCollum added 19 points, and Mackey McKnight and Gabe Knutson
had 14 each.

Lehigh shot 42.4 percent from the field to Michigan State’s
40.3, but the Spartans – last in the Big Ten in free throw
percentage – hit 82.1 percent at the line and had a 50-31 edge on
the boards.

”I told our team the other day that they were pretty good,”
Izzo said of the Mountain Hawks. ”They were a little better than I
thought.”

Keith Appling scored 19 points, including all 12 of his free
throws, and had seven rebounds for Michigan State. He was 3 for 13
from the field but made up for that in other ways.

So did Draymond Green, who added 16 points and 10 rebounds for
his seventh double-double this season. The three-year captain was
seven minutes late for a morning meeting and didn’t start the game.
But despite a 5-for-17 performance from the field, he made an
impact with a career-high six blocked shots.

”One thing we said is we want to improve every night,” Green
said. ”It may not have looked like we improved tonight, but this
is one of those games where it was probably our first ugly win. The
entire win was just ugly.”

Branden Dawson had 14 points and eight rebounds, while surprise
starter Austin Thornton added 11 points and seven boards.

”It’s kind of how I’ve played here,” Thornton said. ”My job
is to bring the energy. That’s just how I always have been. … I’m
just glad we got the win.”

The Mountain Hawks trailed 11-5 before an 11-0 run gave them a
five-point lead. Greiner, a Michigan native, scored nine of those
points, including a pair of 3s.

”It was always a dream of mine to play for Coach Izzo or play
against him,” Greiner said. ”I got to play against him, and I had
a great time. It was a dream come true. I just kind of made open
shots, and that’s what I wanted to do.”

The Spartans drew even a few minutes later, and the lead went
back and forth the rest of the half. Michigan State finished with
five straight free throws for a 35-33 edge, only to go three down
in a hurry.

With a foul to give, freshman Brandan Kearney fouled McCollum
well away from the basket with 4 seconds left. But a vigorously
disputed continuation call by official Tom O’Neill gave McCollum
the basket and three free throws, including two for a technical
foul on Izzo.

Lehigh outscored Michigan State 15-0 from beyond the arc in the
first 20 minutes, going 5 for 12 while the Spartans were 0 for 2.
That more than negated the hosts’ 26-14 rebound advantage.

Michigan State quickly tied the game in the second half, then
took a 45-41 lead on free throws by Thornton and Green, the first
two coming after a technical on Reed.

When Thornton hit the Spartans’ first 3 of the night with 13:10
left, the lead swelled and Travis Trice made it a seven-point game
from deep a minute later. After a steal, Trice fired a long pass to
Brandon Wood for a layup and a nine-point cushion.

A three-point play by Dawson made it a 13-point game and ended
any thought of an upset. But Michigan State was left with plenty to
work on before unbeaten Indiana visits Breslin Center next
Wednesday in its conference opener.

Lehigh also returns to action next Wednesday with a game at St.
Peter’s.