On the heels of a 1-of-8 night in No. 4 Michigan State’s loss to No. 1 Indiana on Tuesday night, junior point guard Keith Appling needed to bounce back if the Spartans were to win at No. 18 Ohio State.
Unfortunately for Appling and the Spartans that didn’t happen, as he accounted for three points (1-of-6 FG), one assist and three turnovers in Michigan State’s 68-60 loss in Columbus.
On the season Appling averages 13.8 points and 3.9 assists per game, but over the last four games (Michigan State is 2-2) he’s shooting 24.3% from the field and averaging 9.0 points, 2.0 assists and 4.0 turnovers per game.
With 1:03 remaining and the Spartans trailing by five (65-60) Appling committed a crucial turnover, overthrowing Adreian Payne and with that went Michigan State’s final chance of closing to within one possession.
The key for Michigan State in regards to both the Big Ten and national title races is to get their starting point guard back on track, and that ultimately comes down to two players.
First and foremost Appling needs to play better basketball, something that no one will dispute. So who’s the other player involved in the equation? Sophomore guard Travis Trice.
Trice has played 17 minutes in the last two games (11 against Ohio State) after missing four contests due to a head injury suffered in Michigan State’s 80-75 win over Illinois on January 31. With Trice sidelined not only has Appling played an average of 35 minutes per game, which isn’t much more than his season average of 33.6 minutes/game, but he’s also been asked to do a lot more on the defensive end of the floor.
And when considering the fact that Michigan State has taken on Michigan (Trey Burke), Indiana (Yogi Ferrell) and Ohio State (Aaron Craft) in the last 12 days this stretch has been no cakewalk for Appling.
“We beat the hell out of Keith Appling,” head coach Tom Izzo stated in a story by Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press on Saturday. “Lots of teams play guys 38 minutes, but a lot of teams don’t rely on that guy that is playing 38 minutes to push it and check the hell out of the best player.”
There’s no doubt that Appling is a talented player who has hit a rough patch, but it’s important to note the increased responsibilities once Trice went down. If Trice can take on more minutes as Michigan State approaches March, Appling and the Spartans will benefit as a result.