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Champions Classic: Appling and Michigan State use experience to top Kentucky

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CHICAGO — The matchup of No. 1 Kentucky against No. 2 Michigan State was the much-anticipated “undercard” of Tuesday night’s State Farm Champions Classic at the United Center in Chicago, but for Michigan State and head coach Tom Izzo it was a chance to make an early-season statement.

While many fans — and the estimated 70-plus NBA scouts in attendance in the United Center — were fixated on the latest crop of “one-and-done” freshmen, the experienced Spartans threw the first haymaker of the night and landed it squarely on the jaw of Big Blue Nation.

“We wanted to keep putting them on the ropes,” Michigan State sophomore Gary Harris said. “Punch them in the mouth first before they hit us.”

Jumping out to a 10-0 lead on Kentucky, Michigan State silenced the Wildcat faithful early and held what many consider to be one of the greatest recruiting classes in history scoreless through the first TV timeout.

(MORE: Kentucky lost, but they are going to be just fine in time)

Instead of focusing on Kentucky’s loaded freshman class, college basketball fans were quickly reminded of how good the Spartans were last season.

Senior forward Adreian Payne (15 points) and sophomore guard Gary Harris (20 points) looked like potential lottery picks in the first half, but the tremendous play of senior point guard Keith Appling kept Michigan State in control when Kentucky made a run in the second half.

Payne and Harris combined to go 10-for-14 from the floor in the first half, but Appling — who has been inconsistent at point over the course of his career — handled Kentucky to the tune of 22 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and only three turnovers in 34 minutes.

Appling credits Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo for staying on him and helping him maintain his focus.

“Listening to him and believing in what he was telling me and watching film (helped me grow),” Appling said of Izzo.

“I feel like that comes with growth, being around Coach Izzo, on and off the court, I’ve learned a lot.”

The Spartans perhaps surprised the Wildcats by outscoring them 21-2 on fast break points — thanks in-part to Kentucky’s porous transition defense — but Kentucky outrebounded the Spartans 44-32.

But as Kentucky tied the game at 66-66 with under five minutes to play, Appling knocked in a huge corner three off a pass from Denzel Valentine and Harris made another layup to push the Spartans ahead by five and kept them ahead for good.

Beating the No. 1 team in America front of former Spartan greats like Magic Johnson, Morris Peterson and Jason Richardson was a big early-season moment for Michigan State but as Harris and Appling sat at the podium, they remained focused on their goals in March and April.

“We can’t win a Big Ten championship or a title playing in this game,” Harris said

“It’s a great win, but at the same time we didn’t accomplish anything tonight,” Appling said.

“We want to be No. 1 at the end of the season, not the beginning.”

CBT Podcast: Mark Titus recaps Wednesday’s games

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 22: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks lays the ball up against JD Miller #15 and Jaylen Fisher #0 of the TCU Horned Frogs in the first half at Allen Fieldhouse on February 22, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Wednesday’s slate of games had several wild results.

Former Ohio State walk-on turned blogger turned author Mark Titus, who is currently writing for The Ringer, joined Rob Dauster on the latest episode of the CBT Podcast to go over last night’s games. The two also discussed who is the best team in the nation at the moment, as well Frank Mason III’s rap single from several years ago #BIFM

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

Roy Williams apologizes to Rick Pitino, hopes that never happens at UNC again

CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 16:  Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates after his 800th career victory with a 85-68 win over the Syracuse Orange at the Dean Smith Center on January 16, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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North Carolina’s Roy Williams called fellow Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino to apologize for a fan’s behavior during Wednesday night’s game in Chapel Hill.

While leaving the floor at halftime, Pitino had to be restrained by members of the Louisville coaching staff and he and a UNC fan exchanged words as he made his way to the locker rom. There’s video of Pitino pointing and shouting at a fan, who reportedly said, “Pitino, you suck!”

“I don’t like that,” Williams said, according to the Charlotte Observer. “I mean we’re in North Carolina. We don’t have to be like everybody else. We can raise Cain. You can boo, but you don’t have to say the stuff that we as coaches have to put up with.”

“I hope that never happens at North Carolina ever again.”

No. 8 North Carolina defeated No. 7 Louisville, 74-63.

Bubble Banter: It’s a quiet night on the bubble

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Miles Bridges #22 reacts after being taken out of the game by head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
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STILL TO PLAY

Georgia at Alabama (RPI: 68, KenPom: 61, next four teams), 7:00 p.m.

Nebraska at Michigan State (RPI: 43, KenPom: 55, No. 10 seed), 7:00 p.m.

Towson at UNC Wilmington (RPI: 41, KenPom: 57, No. 12 seed), 7:00 p.m.

VIDEO: Jim Boeheim on DP Show: ‘I might be done this year’

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Jim Boeheim was on the DP Show on Thursday morning, and he admitted that John Gillon’s 23-foot banked-in three at the buzzer was (shocker!) a lucky shot.

But that wasn’t the most interesting thing that he said on the show.

Patrick asked him about his future in Syracuse, and Boeheim had an interesting response.

“I don’t know what’s etched in stone these days,” Boeheim said. “I really don’t. There’s a plan in place, and we’re going to see what happens. But basically right now, I might be done this year. You just don’t know. You just have to wait until the season’s over.”

Boeheim also responded to a column written by Pete Thamel in SI that speculated on when his time in Syracuse would come to an end, saying the only accurate part of the story was that “he spelled my name right”, before adding that, like anyone else nearing the end of a career, when he has a bad day or a bad week, he thinks about calling it a career.

Report: Creighton’s Mo Watson Jr. suspended after sexual assault allegation

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 31: Injured guard Maurice Watson Jr. of the Creighton Bluejays looks on during the game against the Butler Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse on January 31, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Creighton defeated Butler 76-67. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Creighton announced on Wednesday that injured point guard Mo Watson Jr. was suspended from the program on Feb. 13th for “alleged actions that are contrary to university policies and core values.”

The reason for that suspension, according to a report from the Omaha World-Herald, is that he is being investigated for an alleged sexual assault that happened in Omaha this month.

No charges have been filed and Watson was not arrested as of Wednesday night, according to the paper.

Watson was having an all-american season and leading the nation in assists when he tore his ACL on Jan. 16th in a win at Xavier. He underwent surgery in his hometown of Philadelphia a couple of weeks later, but he has not been a part of a Creighton team activity since his return.

Creighton is 4-5 since Watson’s injury, losing on Wednesday night at home against Providence. They’ll likely make the NCAA tournament still.

Watson is not going to participate in Senior Night festivities in Omaha next week, per the OWH.