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Keith Appling leads No. 2 Michigan State to a 78-74 win over No. 1 Kentucky

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CHICAGO — No. 2 Michigan State, the national title favorite chocked full of veteran all-americans, had completely outclassed their more hyped counterparts from Kentucky on Tuesday night, riding the hot hands of Adreian Payne and Gary Harris to a first half lead that grew to as much as 15-points.

But Kentucky came back. They fought and they scrapped and they rode the broad shoulders of potential No. 1 pick Julius Randle, tying the game at 66 when Randle knocked down a pair of free throws with just under five minutes left in the game. The Wildcats had all the momentum, making their run despite the inability to make a free throw, and the fans in green and white had come to expect the worst.

Keith Appling had an answer, however. The senior point guard put a bow on one of the best games of his career, drilling a three from the corner to break the tie. On the ensuing inbounds, Andrew Harrison, Kentucky’s freshman point guard, threw the ball directly to Harris, who went right to the rim and scored, giving the Spartans a five point lead they would never relinquish. Tom Izzo’s club would go on to win 78-74.

Appling finished with 22 points, eight assists, seven boards and four steals while Harris chipped in with 20 points and Payne added 15 of his own.

Branden Dawson finished with eight points and nine boards, three of which came on the offensive end. His tip-in with 5.8 seconds left in the game was the final margin, giving the Spartans a two-possession lead.

Down the stretch, it was the veteran leadership of Michigan State that shined through. The Spartans made big plays when they were needed. They hit big shots in pressure moments. And outside of a questionable turnnover by Appling in the final minute, generally played flawless basketball when the lights were shining the brightest.

Kentucky? They missed open threes. They couldn’t hit free throws, going 20-36 from the charity stripe. The Harrison twins reacted poorly on too many calls that didn’t go their way. You know what that’s a sign of? Youth. Inexperience. A bunch of freshmen playing their first game with real pressure.

The talent on the Wildcats roster is simply undeniable. Julius Randle finished with 27 points and 13 boards, numbers that would have looked even better if he hadn’t committed eight turnovers. Trust me when I say this: the hype surrounding Kentucky is real. It’s deserved.

And if anything, a loss this early in the season will help. You wanna know a good way to burnout a bunch of 19 year olds? Turn every game they play into the pursuit of a perfect season.

Kentucky will be fine.

There’s no shame in losing the way Kentucky lost.

Jennings becomes seventh player to transfer from Kentucky

Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell watches his team during the team's regional semifinal in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament against Washington in Lexington, Ky., Friday, March 25, 2016. Washington won 85-72. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
(AP Photo/James Crisp)
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell has announced that sophomore forward Alexis Jennings will transfer, the seventh Wildcat to leave the program since last fall.

Jennings’ departure comes a week after Mitchell publicly addressed the mass exodus of players and assistant coaches and stressed the need for building stability. Jennings figured to be part of that process and the coach said in a release Wednesday night that “it saddens us that Alexis did not see a path for her at Kentucky. … She felt it was in her best interest to finish her career elsewhere and we owe her that opportunity.”

The 6-foot-2 Jennings started 18 of 33 games last season and averaged 10 points and 7.1 rebounds.

DePaul adds 2018 commit

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Wisconsin guard John Diener has committed to DePaul, his grassroots program announced Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-4 Class of 2018 guard ends his recruitment rather early with offers also from instate schools Green Bay and Milwaukee. He’s known as a shooter and becomes the first commit for Dave Leitao in the 2018 class.

Diener, who plays with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors in the spring and summer, commits to the Blue Demons with them coming off a disappointing campaign, Leitao’s first in Chicago. DePaul went 9-22 overall and 3-15 in the Big East, finishing only ahead of St. John’s.

DePaul has been recruiting the Midwest hard with incoming 2016 recruits from La Lumiere School in Indiana, Sagninow, Mich. and locally in Chicago.

Four-star guard Fisher commits to TCU

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Jamie Dixon’s presence is already being felt in the Big 12 and on the recruiting trail.

TCU received its first commitment of the Dixon era when four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher announced his decision to join the Horned Frogs on Wednesday.

“Due to how comfortable my family and I are with the coaching staff,” Fisher posted from his Twitter account, “and the emphasis the university has put on making basketball a priority, I’m committing to be a student-athlete at TCU.”

Getting a consensus top-75 prospect, who was once committed to UNLV, is a heck of a coup for being just a couple months on the job. It instantly shows the Frogs are going to be a player for some of the country’s top players, which is a necessity if you have designs on making a move up the ladder of arguably the country’s best league in the Big 12.

Maybe the most gratifying thing for TCU, though, is the reason Fisher publicly stated for making his decision, the school’s “making basketball a priority.” The hoops program has suffered immensely in the Big 12 (while the football program has flourished), winning a total of eight games in their four seasons (including a winless 2014), but the school sank $72 million into renovating its arena, made an aggressive move in firing Trent Johnson and then went out and got its dream candidate, Dixon, an alum. Fisher’s commitment is the first time those moves have shown that commitment to basketball paying off.

 

Report: Izundu’s San Diego State transfer ban rescinded

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Washington State transfer Valentine Izundu will be visiting San Diego State after all.

Coach Ernie Kent has rescinded his restriction on the 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from visiting the Aztecs, according to a report from the Spokesman-Review, citing an anonymous source. Izundu will also be reportedly visiting Fresno State and UNLV.

Izundu had previously been barred from considering the Aztecs by Kent because of suspcisions of tampering. Izundu vigorously denied that was the case as at the center of the dispute was a trip he made to San Diego for spring break. He publicly said he did not have any contact with the SDSU coaching staff , though he attended an Aztecs NIT game.

Kent, though, appears to have relented, as many coaches who have similarly faces public pressure in such situations before him have. In this era where so much attention is being paid to player rights and welfare, there only seems to be growing public sentiment against programs restricting transfers beyond the absolute bare minimum is rarely going to go over well. It may make things more difficult for coaches and programs, but it’s the deck is largely already stacked in their favor in most every other instance.

Ex-Michigan State player Keith Appling faces weapons charges

Keith Appling
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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) Authorities say former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling faces charges including carrying a concealed weapon after he was found in possession of guns and marijuana in suburban Detroit.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office says 24-year-old Appling was arrested outside a Dearborn club on Sunday night. Club security called police after seeing a man pull a gun from the trunk of a car.

Prosecutors say Appling was in the driver’s seat of the car when police arrived. Officers found a handgun under the driver’s seat, a loaded weapon in the trunk and a small amount of suspected marijuana.

Weapons and marijuana possession charges were announced Wednesday.

The court says he doesn’t have a lawyer on record.

Appling played for the Spartans from 2010-2014 and plays for the NBA’s development league.