Mich State's Appling made most of space to shoot
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By LARRY LAGE
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Michigan State openly wishes Louisville copies part of the Saint Louis game plan against the Spartans.
The Rick Majerus-led Billikens did that, consistently, and the tactic wound up backfiring. Appling scored a game-high 19 points and made a 3-pointer with 1:34 left in the four-point win.
"All game long, they had been sagging off me and pretty much disrespecting my jump shot," Appling said. "In the middle of the game in a timeout in the huddle, (Green) just came to me and said, `You can shoot the ball. You shot 41 percent last year (from 3) - shoot the ball.' That just put confidence into me and I went out there and when he passed it to me, I knocked the shot down."
The 6-foot-1 Appling was a scoring sensation in high school, setting a state record with 49 points to help Detroit Pershing win the 2009 Class A State title. He averaged 28 points as a senior and won Michigan's Mr. Basketball award.
Appling didn't shoot much last year, playing behind or alongside Kalin Lucas, but he did connect on .436 percent of his shots overall and .411 percent beyond the 3-point line. But this season, he is shooting a little worse overall and much poorer on 3-pointers - connecting on fewer than one-fourth of his attempts from outside the arc.
Does Izzo think the Cardinals' game plan Thursday night in their regional semifinal will include daring Appling to shoot jumpers?
"I hope they do," Izzo said. "If they play off him, that's good for me."
Appling has done what has been best for the team, moving from shooting guard to point guard this season. It didn't go well at first.
In losses to North Carolina and Duke to open the season, Appling had zero assists and five combined turnovers.
Since then, he has averaged more than four assists and two turnovers a game.
"Maybe it is the adjustment of learning how to run a team and shoot, all the different things you got to do," Izzo said. "But I still say before he leaves he's going to be a great player because he can defend, and he's learning how to make decisions. That shot will come back. It's just been a little flat this year for some reason."
Appling was the last player off the court after a practice last week, working with assistant coach Dwayne Stephens on shooting rainbows instead of line drives. The post-practice session might have helped the Spartans when they needed Appling to make a 3-pointer to hold off Saint Louis and he did, getting a shooter's bounce to help them advance to the round of 16 for the 10th time in 15 years.
"That's really what took us to getting the win," Green said. "That was the difference in the game."
Appling said it stunned him to have so much room to shoot from start to finish on Sunday. He had to resist the temptation to shoot early and often, focusing on running plays and staying within Izzo's structured system offensively.
"It takes a lot of discipline," Appling said. "Growing up, I was a scorer all my life. Every opportunity I get, I'm looking to score the ball. For them to back off of me, I wanted to take every shot. I just had to stay composed and continue to run the offense and be patient. I knew things were going to happen."
Majerus acknowledged being surprised that Appling took advantage of the situation, comparing it to playing percentages in baseball and finding out that doesn't always work as he used to hear former manager Tony La Russa talk about.
"He has a good line about you walk that batter intentionally who is like a .350 hitter, and then that .260 hitter behind him becomes a .300 hitter," Majerus said.
Follow Larry Lage on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/larrylage
Updated March 21, 2012