Gary Harris scored 23 points and hit a series of big jumper for the Spartans. Adreian Payne once again boosted his NBA Draft stock with 14 points, 10 boards, five blocks and a few absurdly athletic plays for a 6-foot-11 center with three-point range. Derrick Nix chipped in with 13 points and eight boards while Denzel Valentine posted nine points, six boards and six assists while committing just a single turnover.
Put it all together, and what you get is a 70-48 win for No. 3 seed Michigan State as they advance past No. 6 Memphis and into the Sweet 16.
The Tigers made a run late in the first half, using a triangle-and-two defense to trim a 13 point Spartan lead to 32-29 at the half. Take away that 16-6 surge, and Memphis was utterly and completely dominated by Michigan State. It wasn’t much of a game, to be frank.
And the scary part?
The Spartans did it without much from starting point guard Keith Appling. Appling finished with two points on 1-4 shooting with just two assists and two turnovers in 28 minutes before leaving the game with a shoulder injury. (It’s not thought to be too serious, as he was reportedly available to return.) He was a non-factor, plain and simple, and that’s usually not a good thing for the Spartans. They survived today because their offense was clicking, their defense was overwhelming and Memphis was simply outclassed. But I’ll tell you this much — Duke, Louisville and St. Louis also inhabit the Midwest Region, and they may not be as kind to the Spartans as Memphis was.
And here’s the thing about the Spartans: it’s not necessarily the scoring that Michigan State needs out of Appling. They have other guys that can get them points, especially on the nights when their front line is in full-fledged beast mode as it was tonight. What Appling provides is a steadying — relatively — hand as a ballhandler and ability as a creator.
Michigan State had 18 turnovers on Saturday, coughing the ball up on 27.6% of their possessions. This isn’t an isolated issue, either. They rank 222nd in the country in turnover percentage. And this came on a night when their worst offender — Valentine — happened to have six assists and just a single turnover.
Appling is the only player on the Michigan State roster with an assist rate higher than his turnover rate. They need him — and they need him healthy — simply because he’s the least likely to turn the ball over.
They won’t be making the Final Four if they turn the ball over 18 times against Louisville, Duke, St. Louis or even Creighton.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.