Michigan State escapes in overtime again 71-67
-- When Keith Appling came to Michigan State, he was known as a prolific scorer.
As a junior at Detroit Pershing, Appling scored 49 points in the state championship game.
But often it can be hard for a college freshman to find his rhythm, and Appling has been no different. Through the first half of the season, the 6-foot-1 guard had become more of a defensive stopper for the Spartans, often being referred to as Charlie Bell, the former Michigan State standout known for being a defensive star.
But on Saturday, Appling showed why he was such a prized recruit.
With Michigan State struggling from the field and on the verge of another disappointing loss, it was Appling who stepped up at crunch time.
Appling scored a career-high 19 points, including a 5-for-8 performance from 3-point range, to lead the Spartans to a 71-67 victory in overtime over Northwestern at the Breslin Center.
Michigan State (12-5, 4-1 Big Ten) had to go overtime to beat Wisconsin on Tuesday and had to do it again against Northwestern. It was the first time Michigan State played back-to-back overtime games at home and was the first time they played two straight since 2005, when the Spartans lost to Gonzaga in three overtimes before bouncing back to beat Arizona at the Maui Invitational.
While the Spartans got another solid effort from Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green, it was Appling who stole the show. He had several big shots late, but his biggest might have come in overtime when he nailed a 3-pointer to put the Spartans up for good, 67-65 with 1:51 left.
"For a freshman, he's really starting to raise his game," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "They're all calling him Charlie Bell because he can check, and he's checked awfully well for a rookie. But he's starting to get his offense and he was a great scorer in high school. He's starting to get his confidence a little bit and the guys are starting to look for him.
"I like the demeanor he plays with, I like the toughness he plays with. He's not afraid to take a shot and I like that."
Appling has been inconsistent this season with his shot, but he credits his recent work at turning around his game.
"I got a lot of shots in pregame and yesterday at practice so my shot felt a lot better than usual," Appling said. "Every time it came off it felt good and my teammates found me open and I stepped up and knocked the shot down."The solid shooting from Appling gave the Spartans a much-needed lift. They shot less than 27 percent from the field in the first half and ended at 38.5 percent.
The Spartans were getting plenty of good looks; however, the shots simply were not falling.
"If the ball goes in the basket, it would have looked really pretty today," Izzo said. "And when the ball doesn't go in the basket, it really looks ugly."
Luckily for the Spartans, Appling gave them the boost they needed and Green and Lucas provided plenty of solid play down the stretch.
Free throws have been a big problem this season for Michigan State, but against Northwestern, it was outstanding, making 24 of 28. Green was 10-for-10 and finished with 16 points and Lucas was 6-for-6 and had 18 points.
"We had a team free-throw shooting session yesterday before film and coach told us the difference between winning the game and losing the game is one or two free throws," Green said. "Today it was one or two free throws and that really changed the game for us."
The free throws were big late as the Spartans scrambled once again to force the overtime.
Green hit two free throws with 10.9 seconds to play to tie the score at 60 before Michael Thompson was called for traveling, setting up Michigan State's final possession with 2.7 seconds left in the game. Green then got off a shot from about 25 feet, but it banged off the backboard, creating the second straight overtime game for the Spartans.
Green was big in overtime as well, stealing a pass midway through the final period and going in for a dunk to cut Northwestern's lead to 65-64 and sparking the home crowd.
"I read Crawford's eyes and knew he wasn't really paying me any attention," Green said. "I just creeped up a bit and saw when he was about to throw the ball and wasn't even looking where he was passing. Their coach actually saw me and yelled, 'He's going for the steal,' but it was too late, he had already thrown the ball."
Appling then scored the next five points to help put the game away.
"We needed somebody to step up and knock down some shots and Keith stepped up and knocked them down," Green said. "I've been struggling a little bit and Durrell (Summers) has been struggling. That's where we needed somebody to come in and step up and that's what Keith did today."
The Spartans also did a good job of slowing down Northwestern (11-5, 2-4). Leading scorer John Shurna was held to just six points, well below his average of 20.1. Drew Crawford scored 16 for the Wildcats and Thompson added 15 while playing all 45 minutes.
"They did a nice job," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "(Shurna) is not moving that well, so it's hard for him. He hit a couple shots at the end, but we sort of switched things and started running things for Crawford. But they did a very nice job."
Jan. 15, 2011