EAST LANSING, Mich. — Keith Appling was a 40-minute man Tuesday night for Michigan State. A 39-minute man would not have been enough to beat a scrappy Boise State team.
Appling scored four points in the final 14 seconds of a 74-70 win in which he played every second.
Freshman guard Gary Harris, just the third Spartan freshman to score in double-figures in each of his first three games, was knocked out in the first minute of play with a shoulder injury that will require a MRI Wednesday morning.
Guard Travis Trice — who allows Appling to move from the point to shooting guard at times — has not played since experiencing concussion-like symptoms in the opener in Germany.
So, with two of the top three guards on the sideline, Appling was asked to be the man.
The Spartans were clinging to a 70-68 lead and had the ball with a six-second differential between the 35-second clock and the end of regulation time. Meaning they would have to take one more shot, which caused coach Tom Izzo to call a timeout with 24 seconds on the game clock.
Izzo looked into Appling’s eyes for a hint of exhaustion or a lack of focus. But what Izzo saw was fire, and so he knew who was taking the shot that meant the game.
“It’s time, big boy,” Izzo said he told Appling. “You wanted the stage, bring it home. It’s your time — you’ve earned it and we don’t have many guys left.”
Appling got the inbound pass and drove through traffic to the hoop to bank in a scoop shot.
One of the students in the Izzone shouted even before the shot dropped: “And one!”
An instant later, with the ball through the net and the defensive foul called, another Izzoner shouted: “Attaboy, Appling!”
Appling swished the free throw to complete the three-point play. He needed to make one of two free throws with six seconds left to put the game away, and made the second after missing the first to finish with a season-high 22 points.
Asked about Izzo’s encouragement on the timeout, Appling smiled after gulping some Gatorade and said, “I just know he had put the ball in my hands, and I had to do something for my team. Every time he draws up a play to put the ball into my hands, I want to make something happen.”
When asked if he was tired, Appling said, “No, I really wasn’t even tired. I didn’t know that I had played 40 minutes. Well, I knew I didn’t come out.”
Reporters gathered around him in the locker room laughed and so did Appling.
There’s no time for math during games, but here were the rest of his numbers: 57-percent shooting from the field, seven assists, five rebounds, three steals and one foul under the five allowed. That last stat was perhaps the most important. Boise State’s leading scorer, guard Derrick Marks, fouled out with 24 points and 2:36 to play.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson, home for Thanksgiving, watched from a luxury box. Appling said he hoped to speak with him before Johnson returned to Los Angeles.
Did his accomplishment mean more coming before the school’s greatest hoops legend?
“Of course, yeah,” he said. “It’s Magic Johnson. And it’s our home floor, and we want to protect it.”
Endurance allowed the confident junior to be there to the end.
“I ran cross country in high school,” said Appling, a McDonald’s All-America and Mr. Basketball at Detroit Pershing, “so conditioning has never been a problem for me. We did some things running at the indoor football field and on the track in the off-season. And that’s why we do things like that.”
It’s how a player becomes a 40-minute man.
“Keith Appling was the man,” Izzo said. “He earned what he’s got, and gotten it the old-fashioned way. He has no doubt in his mind now about why we pushed him. The guy did an unbelievable job, and down the stretch he was a true go-to guy.
“He’s making better decisions. He is a phenomenal athlete, and very good with his right or his left hand. That’s what makes him more effective.”
Izzo called Appling one of the best defensive guards the program has produced, but challenged him to become all he could on offense.
Appling’s response was shooting three-pointers at Breslin Center every day from April through October until he made 500. The result: His shooting percentage on treys has gone from 25 percent last year to 50 percent in four games.
“(Appling) thought he was doing enough,” Izzo said. “If you asked him, he probably has put in more time in the last four months at basketball than he has in the past four years.”
Now, when it’s “go-to” time, the coach knows he has an “App” for that.