EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Keith Appling pulled off a feat.
The Michigan State guard made his hard-driving coach happy.
Appling shook off a sprained right ankle in the first half and finished with 20 points to help the 15th-ranked Spartans pull away to beat Oakland 70-52 Friday night.
“I’m not an easy guy to please,” Izzo acknowledged. “But I’m really excited for him and proud of him for what he’s doing right now in an incredible way.”
The Spartans — already without guards Gary Harris (shoulder) and Travis Trice (concussion) — were worried when Appling limped off the court late in the first half.
No one was more concerned than the junior guard.
“At first, I got scared,” Appling said. “That didn’t seem like an average ankle roll. After I calmed down and took a couple deep breaths, I was able to walk on it.”
Appling was able to start the second half, made some key baskets soon after Oakland made some shots to stay in the game and played 38 minutes.
“There’s some other great guards in this league,” Izzo said. “Some do a lot on the offensive end, a couple are great defenders, he’s doing both and he’s doing it with no backup.”
The Spartans (4-1) have won four straight since starting the season with a loss to Connecticut in Germany, but looked sluggish at times and won’t get a break with a game coming up Sunday at home against Louisiana.
“We need to do a better job of scheduling, not who we play, but when we play,” Izzo said. “If there’s one guy to blame, it’s me.”
The Golden Grizzlies (2-4) never led, but didn’t make Michigan State’s night easy until late in the game.
That still didn’t make coach Greg Kampe happy.
“To play on this stage, I’d rather get beat 99-0 than to do what we did,” Kampe said. “I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.”
The end of the game couldn’t have helped his mood.
Oakland cut its deficit to four points with 6 minutes left, then Appling made a 3-pointer to help Michigan State pull away.
“That’s why he’s probably going to be an All-American, All-Big Ten, or whatever,” Kampe said. “Very good player, I wish he played for me.”
The Spartans closed the game with a 12-0 run.
“I’m embarrassed,” Kampe said.
Adreian Payne — who got a cramp in his left leg late in the game — scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds while Derrick Nix added 10 points and seven rebounds for the Spartans.
Michigan State freshman forward Denzel Valentine had 10 points and 10 assists, playing at times against his older brother, senior forward Drew Valentine, who had five points and four assists.
Izzo said their parents, including their father, Carlton, a former Spartan, have “a lot to be proud of with those two kids,” after watching them play against each other for the first time in a game.
Duke Mondy scored 16 and Corey Petros had 14 points and nine rebounds for the Golden Grizzlies.
Oakland is 2-30 against Big Ten teams, including an 0-11 mark against Michigan State.
But the Grizzlies have beaten teams from major conferences — Oregon and Tennessee twice each — in four of the last five seasons and they almost did it again last week at Pittsburgh.
And early on, it looked as if Michigan State might join the list it didn’t want to be on against Oakland.
The Spartans got off to a shaky start with eight turnovers in less than 8 minutes, allowing the Grizzlies to hang around and trail by only one point.
Michigan State, though, recovered well enough to lead 34-21 at halftime. The second half was closely contested until the Spartans started to dominate at both ends of the court and ended up outscoring the Grizzlies 36-31 after halftime.
In both halves, Izzo gave Appling credit for leading the way.