Nov. 24, 2013
NEW YORK (AP) - Keith Appling scored a career-high 27 points, including eight in the final 3:04, and the Spartans pulled away from the Oklahoma Sooners in the final minutes for an 87-76 victory Saturday night in the championship game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
Appling, who was 8 of 12 from the field, was selected tournament MVP and he lived up to the title.
"When I got back in there after sitting with my third foul I got more aggressive and was able to get the momentum shifted back our way," the senior said.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo said he told Appling to take over under control.
"I told him not to settle for 3s," Izzo said. "He got in the lane and made some tough shots. He's such a fabulous athlete."
Gary Harris had 21 points and Branden Dawson added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Spartans, who shot 50 percent from the field (29 of 58). They were 6 of 19 from 3-point range and 23 of 36 from the free throw line and committed 14 turnovers, five over their season average.
The Sooners (4-1) jumped ahead early, fell behind by as many as 18 points and then managed to get within four points twice in the final 4 minutes before the Spartans were able to pull away further. Cameron Clark had a career-high 32 points for Oklahoma.
"At halftime we found a way to respond after not closing the half well," Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. "They're disappointed but they found out you have to do things better to beat the best team in the country."
Oklahoma came out firing and took an early 22-11 lead. The Spartans took advantage when the Sooners cooled down and went up by as many as 14 points by dominating at both ends of the court. They closed the half by outscoring Oklahoma 34-9 over the final 9 minutes and were up 45-31 at halftime.
"We got punched in the mouth early. We really did," Izzo said. "They made shots, outworked us. ... We got the big lead but between foul trouble and Gary Harris cramping up we were a little bit slight of people. I thought we showed character in figuring out a way to win."
The Sooners, who were down 53-35 two minutes into the second half, took advantage of turnovers and poor Spartan shooting to go on another big run - this one 12-0 to get within 57-53 with 12:14 to play.
"I thought we battled to get back into it in the second half," Kruger said. "Obviously that stretch in the first half was a lot to overcome and Michigan State is the type of ball club that can do that to you."
Appling finally ended the Spartans' 6:17 scoring drought with a three-point play with 10:01 to go and he followed an Oklahoma miss with a fast-break dunk to make it 62-53 with 9:35 left.
Oklahoma made one final attempt to get within 75-71, but Appling and the Spartans came up with some big plays down the stretch to get the victory and keep the Spartans at No. 1.
"I'm happy we won," Appling said, "but our coaches and us have a standard about how we play and we didn't do it the whole second half."
The Spartans advanced to the title game with a 96-77 victory over Virginia Tech, riding Adreian Payne's career-high 29 points along with 10 rebounds. The Sooners beat Seton Hall 87-86 in the semifinals with a 7-0 run over the final 32 seconds.
It was another win for the Spartans (6-0) since their victory over then-No. 1 Kentucky moved them up one spot to the top of the poll. They beat Columbia, Portland and then Virginia Tech in the semifinals of this tournament.
"After we beat Kentucky and moved to No. 1 we've been getting everybody's best shot," Appling said. "They are coming at us for 40 minutes and we have to play hard for all 40 minutes."