ATLANTA – Keith Appling scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half as Michigan State used a 13-5 run over the final four minutes knock off No. 7 Kansas in the thrilling opening game of the Champions Classic, 67-64. Appling hit a three to give the Spartans a 65-61 lead with about a minute to go, and after a transition and-one bucket from Kansas freshman Ben McLemore, he hit a tough, up-and-under layup for the final margin.
Appling and freshman guard Gary Harris were sensational down the stretch for the Spartans. They scored 19 of the last 27 Michigan State points, erasing what Kansas had stretched to a six point lead. They combined for 37 points on the night.
This win was a far cry from the Spartan team we saw out in Germany. They were aggressive, they were active on the glass, and they looked like a team that could make a push for a top three finish in the loaded Big Ten.
Perhaps more importantly — and it’s something that I’ll touch on in a later post — Michigan State found their go-to guy in Appling. Harris was terrific as a complimentary scorer tonight, but it was clear that the ball was going to be in the hands of Appling at crunchtime. Izzo trusted him, and he performed.
Kansas, on the other hand, is still looking for that piece.
Elijah Johnson led the way with 16 points for the Jayhawks tonight while Ben McLemore chipped in with 14, but Kansas had no one to give the ball to down the stretch. After opening up a 59-54 lead with five minutes left on the clock, Kansas proceeded to put together nothing but ugly possessions. Their only points came on a pair of free throws from Johnson and an and-one, transition layup from McLemore that came after a missed foul call resulted in an Appling turnover.
Until that go-to guy develops, Kansas is going to have issues in close games.
They need their Keith Appling.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Syracuse vs. No. 18 UConn, 3:30 p.m.
For the first time since the Orange departed the Big East, the two former rivals will square off. Today’s battle will take place at the Battle 4 Atlantis, as the Orange knocked off Charlotte yesterday and the Huskies dispatched Michigan. To get ready for this battle, I’d suggest ready through the conversation @NoEscalators had with himself last night.
THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 25 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Gonzaga, 1:00 p.m.
The other semifinal in the Battle 4 Atlantis could end up being just as good, as the Aggies — who might be the second best team in the SEC — square off with a Gonzaga team that has one of the best front lines in the country. This will be a good test to figure out just how good both of these teams are.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. No. 20 Wichita State vs. USC, 2:00 p.m.: The Shockers will be without Fred VanVleet for this event. It will also be a chance for us to gauge just how good this 4-0 USC team is.
2. No. 23 Xavier vs. Alabama, 12:00 p.m: The Musketeers should have no problems dispatching Alabama.
3. No. 8 Villanova vs. Stanford, 4:30 p.m.: The Wildcats are, once again, as good as any team in the country. Josh Hart might be the nation’s most underrated star.
4. No. 14 Cal vs. San Diego State, 12:00 a.m.: Tyrone Wallace and company have been awesome this season. They get their first real test of the season tonight.
5. Providence vs. Evansville, 7:00 p.m.: Evansville is one of the nation’s best mid-majors, good enough to give the likes of Wichita State and Northern Iowa a fight in the Missouri Valley. And Providence? They got a kid named Kris Dunn. Heard of him?
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
- No. 3 Michigan State vs. Boston College, 6:30 p.m.
- No. 11 Arizona vs. Santa Clara, 11:30 p.m.
- No. 17 Notre Dame vs. Monmouth, 6:30 p.m.
No. 2 Maryland finally found their rhythm on Wednesday night, blowing out a good Rhode Island team, 86-63, in the finals of the Cancun Challenge.
Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon combined for 34 points and eight assists on 13-for-14 shooting and Robert Carter added 15 points, nine boards, three assists and three blocks. Peak Maryland, which is what we saw tonight, is really dangerous.
But Peak Maryland wasn’t the story after the game, as tempers flared in the waning minutes.
It started when Maryland coach Mark Turgeon called a timeout with less than two minutes remaining. Jake Layman had just hit a three to put Maryland up by 24 points and Turgeon wanted to get his walk-ons in the game. Hurley said to the Maryland bench, “We’ll see you again, boy,” according to Inside Maryland Sports, which prompted this reaction from Turgeon:
After the game, the two teams had to be separated in layup lines. According to reports from IMS and from the Baltimore Sun, Hurley was cursing at Maryland players as he was shaking their hands after the game. According Doug Gottlieb, who called the game for CBS Sports Network, Trimble said that the Rhode Island team wanted to “fight us”: