Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 2/1/13
With less than 4:30 to go in the game and Michigan State leading Illinois by a score of 65-62, the Spartans knew what they had to do. They had to get the ball in the hands of their closer: Keith Appling. Appling, a junior guard from Detroit, has been the go to player for the Spartans down the stretch for several games this season. On many occasions throughout the year, he has stepped up late in crunch time and delivered, putting the team on his back en route to a plethera of Spartan victories. But this game was a somewhat unique situation for Appling. Coming off one of his worst games of the year against Indiana, where he struggled with foul trouble all night and finished with just three points in 19 minutes, would he be able to come back in this one and play at the same type of level? The answer to the question we would go on to find out was yes. On a night where much of the theme of the game would be centered around coming back, Appling would do the same. At the half, Michigan State trailed the Fighting Illini 27-37, their largest halftime deficit of the season. Having turned the ball over nine times compared to Illinois’ one, they weren’t looking good out there at all. However, after both teams were sent to the locker rooms for halftime, Michigan State came out in the second half a new team. Suddenly scrappy and more tenacious on the defensive side of the ball, Michigan State opened up the half with a 14-0 run to go ahead by four, 41-37. From this point, Michigan State would go on to build an eight point lead, 51-43, their largest of the night. But it wouldn’t stay like that for long as Illinois caught right back up and the game was played very close right up until the final buzzer. And that takes us right back to the point with less than 4:30 to go in the game. With Michigan State missing both freshman guard Gary Harris to back spasms and sophomore guard Travis Trice to another blow to the head, Michigan State was looking for someone to turn to, someone who had the capibility to put the team on his back and close out this game. In crunch time, Michigan State once again went to their go to player, Keith Appling (Photo credit-Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Moments later, junior big man Adreian Payne found that guy, as he swung a pass over to Appling who stepped up and hit a huge three pointer to put the Spartans up by six, 68-62. A few minutes later, his clutch play continued as he split a couple of Illini defenders, drew the defense over, before lobbing a pass up to Branden Dawson, who threw down a sick alley oop to put the Spartans up 72-67 with 1:45 to play. And lastly, on the very next possession, Appling spun through the lane and connected on an acrobatic left hand layup, this time putting the Spartans on top 74-68 with 45 seconds to play. After this, the Spartans shot some free throws down the stretch to take the game 80-75, thanks to the clutch series of possessions put together by Appling down the stretch. “My teammates have the most trust within me so whenever the game is close down the stretch, they try to get the ball in my hands and I try to make something happen for myself or for my teammates,” Appling said.”It’s crunch time. You should always be motivated. That’s winning time. I feel like that’s the part of the game where I focus in the most.” And it is no doubt that he was the absolute player of this game. Appling had possibly the best game of his career, finishing with 24 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, doing so in 38 minutes of work. But he didn’t do it all alone. Michigan State received a big boost in this one from freshman Denzel Valentine, who, after both Harris and Trice went out with injuries, came into the game and played as well as he has all season, finishing the game with a career high 14 points. “I feel like Denzel did a pretty good jump stepping up and taking on the challenge,” Appling said of his Valentine’s play. All in all, it was a solid victory for the Spartans. After playing miserably in the first half, falling behind by as many as ten points, they fought back and played tremendously well in the second, holding their turnovers to just five, getting to the line a whopping 32 times and oh yeah, shooting 87% from the field but it still couldn’t escape the criticisms of Izzo. “We had a new special tonight,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “Numbers do lie. You shoot 59% and play that poorly, the numbers lie. Inexcusable effort, inexcusable performance. In the second half we regrouped and our kids came out and played hard and it was led by Appling and we found a way to win.” Moving forward, Michigan State(18-4, 7-2) will have some time off here before taking on Minnesota at home next Wednesday.     Follow Ryan Squanda on twitter @squandarunner                          
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Twitter, Facebook report engagement decline during Super Bowl

Steve Spurrier becomes special assistant to South Carolina AD

Brent Musberger wants you to bet on Joe Lunardi’s bracketology

Unranked Duke uses big first half to beat No.13 Louisville

MLB reportedly close to rule preventing collisions at second base

USOC says athletes concern about Zika shouldn't attend Games

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Von Miller shares support for embattled Johnny Manziel

The Panthers had to use a silent snap count at the Super Bowl

Report: Lakers would fire Byron Scott to hire Luke Walton

Was Alain Vigneault right about NHL's lack of punishment towards Wayne Simmonds?

Seahawks’ Frank Clark rips Cam Newton ‘that boy a b—‘

Report: Tom Thibodeau has 'always wanted' Knicks job

Daniel Bryan says goodbye to WWE during teary retirement speech

Paul George delivers great line about driving by Kobe Bryant

WATCH: Oklahoma beats Texas on Buddy Hield's 3-pointer

Andre Drummond hits 70-foot buzzer beater to end 3rd quarter

Duke's Allen appears to intentionally trip Louisville's Spaulding

Candidates for New York Knicks head coaching job

Attorney alleges Johnny Manziel ruptured ex-girlfriend's eardrum

Jeanie Buss may clean house in Lakers’ front office

Lisa Ann wants to reward Emmanuel Sanders for Super Bowl win

WWE Superstar Daniel Bryan to announce retirement

Nine best and worst players from 2015 NFL playoffs

Rodman wants Phil Jackson to know he’s ready to coach Knicks

Wade Phillips trolls Cam Newton with dabbing tweet

College Basketball News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Was Alain Vigneault right about NHL's lack of punishment towards Wayne Simmonds?

Report: Knicks fire coach Derek Fisher

The best and worst commercials from Super Bowl 50

Best and worst from Super Bowl 50

Six best plays from Super Bowl 50

Eli doesn't look thrilled as Peyton wins Super Bowl

Did Beyonce almost fall down during Super Bowl halftime show?

Curry to serve as drummer for Panthers

Report: Marshawn Lynch plans to retire

The 14 biggest plays in Super Bowl history

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker