Appling Shows Growth as a Go-To Guy in Win Over KansasPosted by KTrahan on November 14th, 2012
After the graduation of Draymond Green after last season, Michigan State needed Keith Appling to step up this year, but nobody knew if he could take on the No. 1 role. Questions lingered after his individual performance, and the entire team’s performance, against UConn in Germany last Friday night. But after Tuesday’s 67-64 win over Kansas, Appling appears to have answered his critics. He hit a clutch three late in the game and then scored on a reverse layup with 12.6 seconds left to put the Jayhawks away.
Appling’s athletic skills and scoring abilities were never in question, but now that his leadership skills and decision-making skills have improved, he has the chance to be a special player, not just a talented one. As Graham Couch wrote in the Lansing State Journal, players who make “plays like these” in the clutch develop a reputation as a star. Michigan State is loaded with great talent, but the Spartans needed someone to step up and take on the star role. They got their answer Tuesday night.
Last year, Appling struggled with clutch shots and particularly from beyond the arc. As Couch pointed out, he’s always had the talent, but he lost some of his “scoring swagger,” and couldn’t give MSU a go-to guy outside. Draymond Green hit as many clutch shots from downtown as Appling did. Tom Izzo said that Appling “did it the old-fashioned way. He locked himself in the gym this summer. He shot a lot more shots than he shot in his life.” Tuesday night in Atlanta, all that work paid off, and the Spartans hope it will continue to pay off down the road.
This Michigan State team was picked to finish fourth in the Big Ten, but if things start clicking with Appling and his teammates, there is no reason the Spartans can’t finish at the top of the conference. Appling, Branden Dawson and freshman Gary Harris might be the best guard trio in the conference, and if Harris keeps putting up performances like he did against Kansas — 18 points in 35 minutes — he could be a breakout star in the Big Ten. Down low, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix need more consistency, but both have talent. However, the season could hinge on Appling. MSU will play a lot of close games this year in the tough Big Ten, and in order to win those games, the Spartans will need a go-to guy at the end. If Appling’s play from Kansas is the norm, rather than the exception, MSU’s Big Ten title hopes just got a lot better.