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.