The Spartans squared off against the Portland Pilots on Monday night as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. After surviving a scare against Columbia on Friday, Coach Izzo decided to shake up the starting lineup.
Alex Gauna and Denzel Valentine started in place of Branden Dawson and Matt Costello. Dawson had eight points and seven rebounds against Columbia, and Costello failed to score in only 10 minutes of action.
Both teams traded blows during the entire first half, with Michigan State taking a seven-point lead with just over six minutes to play. Portland then went on a 9-1 run to take the lead with just over three minutes remaining in the half.
Back-and-forth play ensued, with the Spartans never being able to pull away from the Pilots. MSU held on to a slim four-point lead at halftime, largely due to the hot hand of Keith Appling. The senior scored 16 points on 4-4 shooting from beyond the arc, all in the first half.
In the second half, the Spartans finally started to pull away. After back-to-back threes by Gary Harris, MSU took a 10-point lead with just over nine minutes remaining in the game.
State wouldn’t look back after that, eventually extending their lead to 18 with 3:52 left. Appling continued his hot streak, scoring nine second-half points for a total of 25. The Spartans went on to win the game 82-67.
Appling’s 25 points tied his career high. Izzo said it was “one of the greatest point guard performances in many many years.”
Keith responded well after a disappointing three-point performance against Columbia. Izzo said he thinks Appling is becoming a leader, but just needs to work on communication. He went on to say that Appling is not the same player from last year. Hopefully he can continue his hot streak into conference season.
Adreian Payne scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds. With Costello and Gauna playing a combined 19 minutes, Dawson was forced to play much of the game at the power forward position. He was effective on the boards, with a team-high 10 rebounds. Dawson also had a huge impact on the offensive side, with numerous offensive rebounds and tip-ins.
The Spartans need to figure out who is going to anchor the five position. Gauna got the start, but was only used sparingly. Costello was effective when he was on the court, grabbing five rebounds in 10 minutes. It will be interesting to see how Izzo will handle the rotation going forward.
Although the Spartans won by 15, they did not look like the No. 1 team in the nation. Izzo jokingly said that he doesn’t have to worry about peaking in November. The Spartans head to Brooklyn on Friday and Saturday for the Coaches vs. Cancer Championship rounds.
Blake Froling is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.
Photo: David Defever