It wasn’t difficult to figure out who Rick Majerus was going to allow to try and beat him.
With the size advantage that the No. 1 seed Spartans had inside and with the Draymond Green advantage they had on the perimeter, the No. 9 seed Billikens plan was quite clear — they played a good five feet off of Keith Appling, daring the sophomore point guard and 24.2 percent 3-point shooter to try and beat them with his jumper.
And you know what happened? He did.
St. Louis had cut what once was an 11 point lead to two with four minutes left when Appling’s defender went under a ball-screen. Appling took his time, set his feet, and buried his second 17-footer of the second half. Two possessions later, Appling was left all alone in the corner when Draymond Green drove down the left side of the lane. Green found him and Appling rattled home a three, giving the Spartans a seven-point lead with just 1:37 left on the clock. They would go on to win 65-61.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
All told, Appling finished with 19 points and three assists, hitting seven of his 14 shots from the floor and helping to hold the Billikens to just 35.3% shooting. Kwamain Mitchell, the leading scorer or St. Louis, finished with just 13 points on 3-for-10 shooting.
Green is going to be the guy that gets all the attention after this game, and it won’t be unwarranted. He had 16 points, 13 boards, six assists and two steals. He had three assists and a bucket in a 9-5 surge that opening up that seven point lead with 1:37 left. He also blocked a shot and grabbed the defensive rebound during that stretch.
Green did just about everything for the Spartans, including mopping the floor to clean up a wet spot. That’s what he does. He’s coming off of a triple-double in the opening round against LIU-Brooklyn.
But the performance Appling had was just as important.
St. Louis dared Appling to beat them. And he did. You’ll read plenty about what Green did this weekend, but Appling deserves mention and credit as well.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.