There is a reason Keith Appling is a captain on this Michigan State basketball team. In a 72-68 loss to No. 1 Indiana Tuesday night, though, Appling struggled from the floor for the third straight game, raising legitimate questions about what sort of road the junior guard and his Spartan teammates are paving on their way to March.
In the loss to Indiana, Appling finished just 1-of-8 from the floor, including 0-of-4 from three-point range, and committed four turnovers to go along with two assists. That means in the current three-game stretch, Appling is 8-of-33 from the floor (24 percent). Following his poor performance earlier in the year against the Hoosiers, that makes him 2-of-12 with two assists and eight turnovers against the nation’s top team.
Granted, sometimes the Spartans can make it work. He deserves credit for his seven assists in a win over Michigan and getting to the free throw line in a victory over Nebraska. But against the nation’s No. 1 team and as we look forward to March, Michigan State needs Appling to, simply put, be better.
“Having Keith out [with foul trouble in MSU’s first meeting vs. Indiana] hurts that, too, because he is the more aggressive guy in penetrating, gets to the free-throw line and he puts people in position to get to the free-throw line,” coach Tom Izzo said prior to the game. “Maybe they did hold us, maybe we self-checked ourselves, maybe a combination of both.”
Part of the problem can be attributed to the absence of backup Travis Trice, who had missed the last four games due to a concussion and played just six minutes Tuesday against Indiana. Appling has continually logged 35+ minutes per game and that could be a cause of his shooting woes from the floor.
“It puts a lot of pressure on Keith, and Keith was a warrior [versus Nebraska], but I think maybe it hurts some of his shooting,” Izzo said.
The key has been for Appling to get to the free throw line to help heal the struggles from the floor, or to excel distributing the basketball. Neither were the case Tuesday. That caused a ripple effect, forcing freshman Gary Harris to shoulder more of the offensive weight with 19 points and Adreian Payne with 17.
Appling has the chance to get back on the right track and Trice being back and fully healthy will help some in that regard, but Michigan State will need him if they want to be an elite team come tourney time.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_