appling

Late-game offensive execution costs No. 22 Michigan State in Columbus

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For much of this season the prevailing theme regarding No. 22 Michigan State is that once completely healthy, the Spartans could be one of the favorites to win the national title. With guard Keith Appling and forwards Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne all in the fold alongside guard Gary Harris, Michigan State has a rotation that’s as talented and experienced as any in the country.

Michigan State showed glimpses of this potential at various points in Sunday’s 69-67 loss at Ohio State, but their offensive struggles down the stretch resulted in the Spartans’ sixth conference defeat.

Michigan State (23-8, 12-6) didn’t score a point in the final four minutes and 30 seconds, missing all four of their field goal attempts and committing three turnovers. Obviously the Buckeyes (23-8, 10-8) deserve some credit for this, as they are very sold defensive team. But when forced to execute in the half-court down the stretch Michigan State struggled, and this something they’ve got to clean in the days leading up to the Big Ten tournament.

Michigan State turned the ball over on 24.2% of its possessions against Ohio State, the fourth consecutive game in which the Spartans have turned the ball over on at least 21% of their possessions. Michigan State’s record: 1-3. Payne was responsible for five of those turnovers, and Appling finished Sunday’s game with six assists and three turnovers. After seemingly snapping out of his slump in the win over No. 24 Iowa, Appling made just one of his four shot attempts and scored two points.

Part of that was the Ohio State defense, with Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott both being capable defenders. But Appling also didn’t consistently show the assertion that was present in the second half of Thursday’s win, and that has to change heading into postseason play. Sunday’s performance had its positives however, with Michigan State making ten three-pointers and shooting 51.9% from the field in the first half. But they weren’t as effective in the second half as they were in the first, resulting in a tough loss in Columbus.

There’s no reason to panic however, and earning a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament gets a group that’s been banged up for much of the season an extra day’s rest. And it isn’t like the Spartans don’t have the talent needed to rectify the issues they struggled with in Columbus.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.