Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 3/18/12
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When the other teams game plan is to sag off of you, encouraging you to shoot, it can be a little insulting. Michigan State sophomore guard Keith Appling must have wondered if he had bad breath the way no opposing player wanted to get near him when he had the ball on the perimeter. Thats what happens when youre shooting 24.2-percent from three-point range for the season. Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus, one of the great minds in college basketball, dared Appling to shoot Sunday afternoon in a NCAA tournament game at Nationwide Arena. And Appling got the last laugh. He scored 15 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, including a three-point dagger to put the Spartans up by seven with 1:34 remaining. The ball bounced around the rim before rolling through to help send Michigan State to a 65-61 victory over the No. 9-seed Billikens. It moves the Spartans into the Sweet 16 for the 10th time in the last 15 years under coach Tom Izzo. MSU, the No. 1 seed, moves on to play No. 4 seed Louisville Thursday night in a West Region semifinal in Phoenix. Louisville coach Rick Pitino might have to show a little more respect for Applings shooting ability even if it opens up some other things for the Spartans. At first it was kind of surprising, Appling said of the defensive strategy. They had pretty much been begging me to shoot the ball. I was begging him to shoot, too, teammate Draymond Green said. During a late timeout, Green did just that. He reminded Appling that he was a 41-percent three-point shooter last season as a freshman. Part of the reason Applings shot has regressed is that he is playing primarily at the point and has to focus his attention more to running the offense. Shoot the ball, Green told Appling during the final crucial stages of Sundays game. The play was designed for Green, but he was concerned about getting called for a charge when he drove the lane against a collapsing defense. Knowing that Appling should be feeling good about himself after making a couple recent shots, Green delivered a pass right on the money to Appling deep on the baseline. I didnt try to get the rebound, Green said. I just kept running down the court. I knew it was going in. As soon as it came off my hand, it felt good, said Appling, who made seven of his team-high 14 shots. Once I seen it go through the hoop, I was all smiles. Majerus admitted he was a little surprised with some of the shots Appling knocked down, especially that clinching three-pointer. The Saint Louis coach chose to have Applings defender help off of the MSU point guard to try to contain other scorers, including Green. Majerus used a baseball analogy -- and a quote from former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa -- to explain the way Appling came through under the circumstances. He has a good line about you walk that batter intentionally who is like a .350 hitter, and then that .260 hitter behind him becomes a .300 hitter, Majerus said. I think with Appling, Izzo played it really smart, told him to shoot. Izzo wasnt certain Appling had the confidence to take and make the shots that he did, but Izzo indeed did tell Appling to shoot. Izzo didnt want him to take the bait and simply start firing up shots because no one was guarding him, though. He still wanted Appling to wait for a shot that he could step into with good rhythm. Wide-open perimeter shots might look easy, but they can be more difficult mentally because the player has so much time to think about it. Keith Appling can shoot the ball, Izzo said. I told Keith hes got to be patient with it. I just said to him Make the shots inside-out shots, (not) where youre sitting there off the dribble and youre thinking about it. I like the way he let the game come to him. That is hard when somebody is backing off you if youre not ready for it. Thats like a technical where nobodys there. Hell be ready for it if somebody else wants to try it. To step up at the end and hit the big shots shows you a little bit about his toughness. I think hes mentally and physically very tough. While Appling delivered unexpectedly, Green did what hes been doing every game lately. A little bit of everything. He finished four assists short of recording back-to-back triple-doubles. Green had 16 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. It was Green who took over after Saint Louis (26-8) cut an 11-point lead with 13 minutes left to 53-51, leading to a Michigan State timeout with 2:54 left. Green came out and immediately hit a jumper and then forced a missed shot by the Billikens before setting up Appling for the shot that put the game away. Draymond Green does what great players do, Majerus said. He creates his own shot and makes it. I think hes the best player in the country. Is he the best potential player? No, Id take the kid probably from Kentucky (Anthony Davis). But if I had to take a kid right now to win the national championship, Id take Draymond Green. Majerus added, He should be able to cut down the Final Four nets. The Spartans (29-7) are still four victories from that, but theres no denying that Green looks as if hes going to accept nothing less than a national title to complete his career. With the way this team is playing defense, holding Saint Louis to 23.8-percent shooting in the first half and 35.3 percent for the game, the dream is becoming more and more realistic. If Appling starts making perimeter shots the way he did Sunday, that just might be the final piece to the puzzle for the Spartans. GAME OF EMOTIONS Michigan State freshman Brandan Kearney was in tears and had to be consoled by teammates during an emotional breakdown on the bench late in the game. It came after he made some defensive lapses, including getting called for a foul when he bit on a pump fake. Kearney came to the sideline and got an earful from his coach. I cant tell you everything I said, said Izzo. I can tell you what I said in your language, I cant tell you what I said in mine. I think everything kind of got to him a little bit. He struggled a little bit. Izzo said that some of the Spartans young players showed their youth. I bet its going to be one of the best learning experiences he has in his life, Izzo added. Id be shocked if he doesnt bounce back because he has been a very intelligent player and very good defensive player. Its just part of being a young guy thats going to learn what its like. And it will be good. It will be good for him. Hell be a better player next week. POSTGAME EMOTIONS Senior Brian Conklin, who played his final collegiate game, sobbed uncontrollably during a news conference while describing his relationship with Majerus. I couldnt imagine playing for a better coach, better person, Conklin said. He doesnt just teach you about basketball, its about life. Majerus also had to fight back tears, saying, You get attached to kids. As for the loss, Majerus said, We fought our guts out. I think we got the tight shorts a little bit. They were nervous. They tried too hard.
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