Appling leads No. 6 Michigan State over Iowa
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State wasn’t ranked during the preseason, partly because of the uncertainty at point guard.
An off-the-court suspension last season and subsequent transfer to Iowa State by Korie Lucious left the Spartans without their projected heir apparent to Kalin Lucas.
It forced Keith Appling to make the move from shooting guard to the point. There were some rocky times early on for the 6-foot-1 sophomore, but Appling has made a quick transition and will contend for an all-Big Ten spot at this rate.
Appling had 15 points, nine assists and no turnovers to lead the Spartans on Tuesday night to their 15th straight victory, a 95-61 rout of Iowa at the Breslin Center.
“I wouldn’t trade my guy right now for the guy I had in a million years,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said, comparing Appling and Lucious. “Everybody has their chances. Nothing against Lucious, he had his chance. He didn’t take advantage of his chance.
“It’s just ironic the guy coming in is better than the guy going out. That’s a big plus.”
Appling is taking advantage of his opportunity better than most would have expected when he was asked to change positions.
“Keith is about as unselfish of a kid for a guy who was a prolific scorer in high school, and he still checks (plays defense),” Izzo said.
Appling’s emergence as a standout lead guard has played a big role in Michigan State’s resurgence after a 19-15 season in 2010-11 that started with a No. 2 ranking nationally.
This marks the Spartans’ longest single-season winning streak since a 22-gamer in 1998-99. Last season, MSU never won more than three in a row.
Twelve of the 15 wins have come by double digits. They’ve outscored teams by more than 20 points a game during the two-month stretch.
Several games were against weak nonconference opponents, but there were also three victories over teams ranked at the time — at No. 23 Gonzaga, vs. No. 13 Indiana and at No. 18 Wisconsin.
“It’s been a special team already because they’ve done what we’ve asked them to do,” Izzo said. “We’ve defended, we’ve rebounded.
“We’re making more shots than I thought we would. Our defense is better than I thought they would be for a young perimeter team. We’re responding.”
Unranked for all of November, Michigan State first showed up in The Associated Press poll at No. 21 on Dec. 12.
Since then, the Spartans (15-2) have been moving up every week, to 19, 16, 10, and this week all the way to No. 6.
Unless you’re undefeated, you’re not hotter than this team right now.
Michigan State’s last loss came nearly two months ago, on Nov. 15, when Izzo’s team fell to 0-2 after opening up with predictable setbacks against North Carolina and Duke.
How long can the Spartans keep this streak going? They head out on the road for their next two games, Saturday at Northwestern and then Tuesday in a showdown at Michigan.
“We don’t want to stop our streak,” center Derrick Nix said.
A 15-0 run in the first half followed by a 14-0 run in the second half turned this into a laugher against Iowa (10-8).
Izzo called it “one of those games where everything went right for us and everything went wrong for them.”
Leading by 42 with two minutes remaining, it appeared Michigan State was headed for its second-largest margin of victory in a Big Ten game in school history.
The MSU record was a 51-point smashing of Michigan, 114-63, in the final game at the Breslin Center for Mateen Cleaves and company on March 4, 2000.
Izzo, however, turned the game over at the end to a collection of walk-ons, who allowed the lead to shrink to 34. MSU went scoreless for the final 2:11.
None of that, of course, took away from what the Spartans’ regulars had done previously. This was a clinic from the start.
Michigan State shot 61.7 percent and made 16 steals. Draymond Green led the way with 22 points.
What impressed Izzo the most was that his team made 25 assists on 37 baskets, including 15-on-19 in the first half.
“The unselfishness was second to none,” Izzo said.
Said Green: “We shot the lights out tonight. When you’re shooting lights out, the assists start to show up. We’ve been sharing the ball like that, but it looks a lot better when guys are making shots.”
Right now, it’s looking really good for the Spartans. They’re overachieving as much this season as they underachieved last season.
One more than Jud
Izzo surpassed his mentor, Jud Heathcote, in games coached at Michigan State. Izzo is 398-163 in 561 games, while Heathcote was 338-222 in 560 games from 1976-95.
“It just means you survived,” Izzo said.