Appling leads No. 22 Michigan State past No. 24 Iowa
Keith Appling scored in double figures for the first time in more than five weeks and Michigan State looked healthier than it had in months.
That was all it took for the 22nd-ranked Spartans to dominate the second half and earn an 86-76 victory over No. 24 Iowa on Thursday night.
Appling showed his old aggressiveness before hip and wrist injuries, scoring 12 points for the Spartans (23-7, 12-5 Big Ten).
"I’d like to thank all the fans for sticking with us," Appling said in a postgame Senior Night celebration. "It has been a long season. But I hope to see you all at the Final Four in Dallas."
Travis Trice, Appling’s backup, was 3 for 4 from 3-point range and had 16 points, while Adreian Payne added 14 points in his final home game.
"We’ve got to get on the road now and get to the Final Four," Payne said of a goal achieved by every other four-year class in coach Tom Izzo’s 19 seasons. "There have been a lot of excuses. Now, it’s time to man-up and do what we need to do."
Denzel Valentine had 13 points and nine assists for Michigan State, which looked a lot like the team that is 19-2 with a healthy Branden Dawson in the lineup.
"We’ve been through a hell of a lot," Izzo said. "But I said if we can catch fire the way we did in the second half, look out."
Roy Devyn Marble had 24 points for Iowa (20-10, 9-8) which has continued to struggle on defense and is 1-4 over the past two weeks.
"I don’t think it had a lot to do with a lack of energy," Marble said. "I think we played hard. We just didn’t take care of the intangibles."
Michigan State shot 58.3 percent from the field and 58.8 percent from 3-point range, while outscoring Iowa 20-13 at the free throw line, something the Spartans hadn’t done in a 4-6 swoon.
"You’ve got to give them credit," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "They were making them. They were shooting them in rhythm. Some of them were tough. But some of them were wide open, so that’s our fault."
The crowd came alive early in the second half when Appling hit a free throw and drove the baseline for a reverse layup in traffic. A tough-angle bank shot by Gary Harris put Michigan State up by five points and forced an Iowa timeout.
Appling’s steal and layup made it 48-43 before a drive by Marble ended a 11-0 run. But Breslin Center erupted seconds later when the Spartans took an eight-point lead on a 3-pointer Appling wouldn’t have tried for several weeks while his right wrist was bothering him.
"The fans really took some ownership with him," Izzo said. "When I saw everyone in the upper deck rise up after he hit that 3, I told him, `Everyone in this building has your back.’"
Iowa cut the deficit to two points as Aaron White scored his first two baskets of the game, only to see Michigan State answer with a 7-0 run. Matt Costello’s four free throws sandwiched a 3-pointer by Kenny Kaminski and made it 60-51.
After the taller Hawkeyes drew within five points, Trice built the lead to 13 on two 3s and a 10-foot floater as the shot clock expired. When Appling dribbled through a zone press and flipped an alley-oop pass to Dawson the lead grew to 72-59.
Four free throws by Trice — two after a technical foul on McCaffery — ended all the suspense. After a double-foul skirmish that led to a long check of the monitor, Appling’s second 3 gave the crowd one more reason to stick around for postgame festivities honoring the seniors.
"It felt good to finally be close to 100 percent," Appling said. "In the locker room at halftime, I kind of got an earful from (Izzo), and I wanted to respond in a positive way."
The Spartans got off to a much better start than they did last Saturday in a 53-46 loss to Illinois. Valentine was in reach of a triple-double by halftime with 10 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Harris added 10 early points on 4-for-5 shooting and helped his team go up by six points, the biggest lead for either team in the first 20 minutes.
"Throughout these weeks and months, with all the injuries we’ve had, it felt good to play with everybody," Valentine said. "Everybody was happy before the game. We weren’t stressed about who’s going to do this and who’s going to do that."
But the Hawkeyes chipped away and led 41-39 at halftime behind Marble’s 16 points and three assists. The Michigan native was 7 of 10 from the field, using step-back moves to create all the space he needed.
Iowa had 11 points off turnovers in the first half and had a 14-6 edge in bench points, enough to counteract Michigan State’s 62.5 percent shooting from long range. That would change in the second half as the Spartans avoided their fifth home loss this season.