Tonight we saw the Keith Appling Michigan State needs every night

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Illinois spent 20 minutes looking like the team that we all remembered from November against No. 13 Michigan State on Thursday night.

You know the group I’m talking about. They beat Gonzaga at Gonzaga. They beat Butler by 17 points in Maui. They beat Ohio State by 19 points at home.

At the half, the Illini had built a 37-27 lead on the Spartans, as they knocked down enough threes early in the game to open up penetration lanes for their guards, who sliced up the Michigan State defense.

And I have a feeling that ticked off Tom Izzo, because the second half was a different story.

Michigan State reeled off a 14-0 run that they pushed to a 24-6 surge to start the second half, and never allowed the Illini to get closer than two points the rest of the way despite playing the majority of the half without the services of Gary Harris (back spasms) and Travis Trice. Without his back court help healthy, Keith Appling absolutely took over. He finished with 24 points, eight boards and seven assists, but like he did back in November in a win over Kansas, Appling seemingly made every big play down the stretch for Michigan State.

There was the three he made with four minutes left when Illinois cut it to three. There was the play where he split a double-team, nearly fell over and still found Branden Dawson for an alley-oop to put the Spartans up five with two minutes left. There was the driving layup with 45 seconds left that put Sparty up six and all but sealed the game. And, fittingly, there were the two free throws he hit with two seconds left to give Michigan State the 80-75 win.

This was the Keith Appling that Michigan State needs is they are going to give Indiana and Michigan a run for the Big Ten title. This was the Keith Appling that the Spartans need if they are going to have a chance to make the Final Four.

You know what you’re going to get out of Dawson every night, but beyond that, the rest of the Spartan roster can be inconsistent.

Sparty cannot afford for Appling to have disappearing acts like he did against Indiana.

Because if he had played better — if he had stayed out of foul trouble — Michigan State probably would have won that game.

And our opinion of the Spartans might be a bit different today.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Reports: Duke’s Frank Jackson to declare for draft

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Frank Jackson will declare for the draft but will not be signing with an agent, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Previous reports had indicated that Jackson “planned” to return to school, and that still may end up proving true. But the combination of Trevon Duval potentially enrolling at Duke combined with the fact that there is zero downside to going through the draft process, it makes sense for Jackson to declare.

Jackson averaged 10.9 points and shot 39.5 percent from three. He’s projected as a mid-first round pick in 2018 by Draft Express, but at 6-foot-3, he’s too small to play the two in the NBA and has yet to prove he can be a point guard.

Jackson is the fourth Duke player to declare, following Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III and Luke Kennard. All three signed with an agent. Grayson Allen and Marques Bolden are both returning to school.

VIDEO: Top 2018 recruits Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford go head-to-head at adidas

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This weekend is the first live evaluation period of the spring recruiting calendar as college coaches from all over the country are scouting (and babysitting) the top recruits in the Class of 2018 and 2019.

Friday night the adidas Gauntlet in Dallas opened with a marquee matchup of two star players as five-star forward Zion Williamson and five-star guard Romeo Langford went head-to-head in what should be one of the best games of the spring.

Most scouting services have Williamson and Langford as the No. 2 and No. 3 overall prospects in the Class of 2018 as the duo didn’t disappoint in front of the huge crowd in Fort Worth.

Williamson helped his team to a win with 26 points and seven rebounds while Langford had 28 points, four rebounds and four assists. You’ll be hearing plenty about both of these guys over the next few months as both are still wide open in the recruting process.

(H/t: Ball is Life)

Report: Coppin State hires Juan Dixon as new head coach

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Coppin State has hired former Maryland star guard Juan Dixon to be its next head coach, according to a report from Don Markus of the Baltimore Sun.

The 38-year-old Dixon is best known for leading Maryland to the 2002 national championship as he was the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four that year. Now Dixon will have a chance to lead a Division I program for the first time.

Dixon spent seven years in the NBA and also played professionally in Europe before joining the Maryland coaching staff in 2013 as a special assistant to head coach Mark Turgeon. Not retained by Maryland after the 2015-16 season, Dixon took the head coaching job for the women’s team at the University of the District of Columbia last season as the Division II program finished only  3-25.

Coppin State finished last season with an 8-24 record after losing its first 12 games of the season. While Dixon will generate some positive local buzz given his background, he’s going to have an uphill battle trying to rebuild that program.

Nebraska scores important Class of 2017 commitment from four-star guard Thomas Allen

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Nebraska landed an important commitment from the Class of 2017 on Friday as four-star guard Thomas Allen is heading to Lincoln next season.

The 6-foot-1 guard is considered the No. 99 overall prospect by Rivals in the national Class of 2017 rankings as Allen was previously committed to N.C. State before head coach Mark Gottfried was fired.

A scorer with a good amount of skill, Allen has a chance to come in and make an immediate impact at Nebraska as he can play a bit on or off the ball. Allen should help offset the loss of senior Tai Webster in the Husker backcourt.

Allen joins wing Nana Akenten in Nebraska’s Class of 2017 recruiting efforts.

North Carolina lands four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks

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North Carolina pulled in a late Class of 2017 commitment to begin the weekend as the Tar Heels secured a pledge from four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks.

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Brooks was previously committed to Mississippi State, but he was granted his release this spring to explore other opportunities.

The Tar Heels pounced as they’re getting a low-post threat who could develop into a potential double-double threat. A solid rebounder who isn’t afraid to play with physicality, Brooks has a chance to earn some immediate rotation minutes with seniors like Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks exhausting their eligibility.

Brooks is regarded as the No. 120 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, according to Rivals, as he is a four-star prospect. The native of Auburn, Alabama joins a North Carolina recruiting class that includes point guard Jalek Felton, shooting guard Andrew Platek and big men Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley.