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.

Report: Swanigan to stay in draft

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Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft, according to reports.

The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Instead, he’ll reportedly end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.

The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.

Michigan returns Mo Wagner, loses D.J. Wilson

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The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.

The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.

The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.

Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.

Gonzaga to return Johnathan Williams III

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Losing Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the professional ranks probably torpedoed Gonzaga’s chance of making another run to the NCAA tournament national title game, but after Johnathan Williams III announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to school and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Gonzaga does appear to be a favorite to win the WCC title again.

Williams is now Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, anchoring a front court that also loses Przemek Karnowski to graduation. He was expected to go undrafted.

With Williams back in the fold, the Zags should be right there with Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC title. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Killian Tillie all return as well.

ESPN was the first to report the news.

Injured Gamecocks point guard Blanton gives up basketball

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard TeMarcus Blanton is giving up basketball after struggling with a serious hip injury he suffered before his freshman season.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin says Blanton told him he could not get his body to respond to a level that would allow him to continue playing basketball. Blanton is a 6-foot-5 junior from Locust Grove, Georgia, who hurt his hip during preseason for the 2014-15 season. He needed surgery and could not return to the court until his sophomore year.

Blanton played in 29 games, averaging 1.4 points a game.

He said on social media he is grateful to his coaches, teammates and South Carolina fans, “but my journey of basketball has come to an end.”

Blanton received a medical exemption from the Southeastern Conference to remain part of the Gamecocks’ program moving forward.