Jan. 11, 2012
EAST LANSING, Mich. -
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist
During one of his recent pregame shows, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo talked about the importance of finding a so-called go-to guy even though he had to know listeners were yelling the names of Draymond Green and Keith Appling at their radios.
With the Spartans' year-long unselfish play reaching a crescendo in Tuesday night's share-and-share-alike 95-61 victory over Iowa in the Breslin Center, the need for such a search may be irrelevant.
Green led all scorers with 22 points, but nine others contributed points to the cause. He also had a game-high 10 rebounds, for his ninth double-double of the season and the 27th of his career, and five assists.
Appling added 15 points but derived more satisfaction from his career-high nine assists against zero turnovers in MSU's 15th consecutive win.
The Spartans had 25 assists - 10 below their season-high against Nebraska Omaha - on 37 field goals, but 15 came on 19 first-half baskets.
Appling could have easily padded his point total by keeping some of those assists for himself. However, according to the former 28.1-points-per-game scorer as a senior at Detroit Pershing High School, it's better to give than take.
At this point of Appling's position conversion, it's difficult to tell if he's still a shooting guard with a point guard's mentality, or a point guard with a scorer's touch.
"Yeah, there were a lot of plays I could have called for myself and scored, but I would rather see my teammates get easy baskets and get their confidence going," Appling said. "I would rather have 15 assists and no points any night than 15 points and no assists."
That attitude has been contagious.
On the Travis Trice 3-point field goal that put Michigan State ahead 17-5, the ball-movement around the perimeter was so crisply automatic, two assists would have been given for an equivalent scoring play in hockey.
The Spartans' win streak is the longest since Izzo's first Final Four team ripped off 22 straight in 1998-99. No one's looking that far ahead, but no one's dealing in self-imposed limits, either.
"If you're a selfish team, a lot of guys are going to be unhappy, but we're a very unselfish team, so everybody's happy and we're always going to play together," Appling said. "We're like brothers, and we love to see our brothers get a good shot, or get a basket.
"It can take us very far."
The Spartans had a season-high 16 steals and made a season-high 61.7 percent of their shots, which is to be expected when 50 points are coming from inside the paint, as they did against Iowa. Center Derrick Nix scored 10 points, on 4-for-6 shooting from the floor, and might have had more if he would have succumbed to his own gravitational pull.
"The 15 assists on 19 baskets in the first half, and the 25 on 37, is probably the most impressive thing of the night for me," Izzo said. "The unselfishness was second to none. Nix made some unbelievable passes from inside to out and moved the ball.
"You're starting to see Appling get better and better. We got (Brandon) Wood (5-for-7, 12 points) some shots. I'm proud of our guys and the assist thing. Our defense was spotty at times with our young guys, but that unselfishness is special. We got a lot out of a lot of guys."
Consequently, when a game is on the line, Izzo might call a play designed for Green or Appling to get the shot, but if it breaks down, anybody else can become MSU's de facto go-to guy.
"You always got to have that guy you can go to when you need a for-sure bucket, but as long as we continue to share the ball the way like we do, we really don't need a go-to guy," Green said. "If we keep sharing the ball and playing like that from the start, it may not ever come down to having a go-to guy.
"I don't care if I come out with 10 points and Keith has 30, and he doesn't care if I have 22 and he has 15. So many different guys have led us in scoring and that has a lot to do with the success we've been having. Nobody cares who scores. We're just out here trying to win a basketball game."