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Recap: Them Apples

Gregory Shamus

I think Ed Hightower felt bad for the way MSU was treated at the end of the Indiana game.

It's not that the officiating was bad in the second half, it's just that..... I mean.... MSU shot 32 free throws in the second half! Twice as many free throws as field goals it attempted, 1.6 free throws per minute in an 80-75 win over Illinois. It's not that they weren't fouls, it's just that there were a lot of calls that typically aren't made, especially for MSU. Ed Hightower!

Not only did MSU shoot 23-for-32 on free throws in the second half, they shot 14-for-16 on field goals (!!). That's 87.5 percent. MSU shot 59.5 percent from the floor for the game, which is the second-best shooting performance of the year (behind the 60 percent against Nicholls State. I calculated 1.72 ppp in the second half. That's a result of numbers like this:

Now, you see these numbers, you figure MSU wins but a lot and you're all like


But that wasn't the case. MSU played pretty terrible in the first half, Illinois hit some threes and the Illini found themselves leading 37-27 at halftime.

Then Tom Izzo gave a pretty good halftime speech. MSU opened the second half on a 14-0 run to take the lead, and that run swelled to 24-6, as MSU went up eight with 12:19 to go, and you figured they'd put this one in the bag. Nope. Just a minute prior, Gary Harris had gone down hard following a fast-break foul by Brandon Paul. Harris seemed OK, but missed two free throws. That was odd. Shortly after, he left for the locker room.

It was determined that Harris has back spasms and would not return. This after Travis Trice suffered a blow to the head on a fast-break in the first half and left for the locker room. He didn't return.

So MSU was down to five players in its regular rotation. Still, MSU's offense was fantastic. The second-half numbers are above. But perhaps due to fatigue, MSU's defense was not that hot. Illinois kept hitting big shots to keep the game within one or two possessions down the stretch until MSU put it away with free throws. I said Illinois would make this a game if they hit 3s. They made nine (out of 25).

Coming off one of the most disappointing performances of his career, Keith Appling turned in perhaps his best performance as a Spartan: 24 points on 7-for-12 shooting, eight rebounds, seven assists and just two turnovers. This is the Appling MSU has to have if it's going to try to win the Big Ten and make an NCAA Tournament run. In the second half of the...second half...Appling was the go-to on most possessions. He hit big shots, he made great drives, he made great passes and he made free throws. When Denzel Valentine sat with four fouls, there was a considerable amount of time where Appling was the only MSU player who could dribble the ball without turning it over.

It was the clutch finish Appling is becoming known for, the finish MSU desperately missed at Indiana.

Four factors:

That FT rate..... yeah.

MSU's OR% was 36 percent, and that was necessary against a poor defensive rebounding team in Illinois. The Illini had 10 offensive rebounds, but that was going to happen with a lot of 3 attempts. Still, their OR% was 28 percent, which is well below their average.

Considering MSU had seven turnovers in just the opening minutes, finishing with 14 for the game isn't that bad. The Illini had eight turnovers, but seven of those came in the second half.

The biggest question now is the health of Harris and Trice. The latter may have a concussion, and Izzo didn't seem optimistic that he would be back soon. As for Harris, we don't know. The good news is that MSU doesn't play until Wednesday, so there is some time to heal. Harris know has bum shoulders and a bad back. This is what happens when KJ starts to stop worrying about depth.

Given the halftime deficit and the injuries, you take a win like this. You need to win games like this if you're going to compete for a championship. There are now even more worries moving forward, and there really aren't any options to fix it. This probably means Russell Byrd is going to start getting more than 10 minutes a game, and he's going to need to put up more than a 7 trillion, as he did Thursday. For some positive spin, this would give him more time to figure things out, as opposed to coming in for a few cold minutes each game and no chance to do anything.

This is where losing Brandan Kearney is a killer.

Player bullets:

-- Appling: Illinois very clearly had a gameplan of big hedging out when MSU would go with the high screen. During MSU's big second-half run, Appling would fake following the screen and cut back, where the lane was was open. Then when he would take the screen, he split the double-team time and time again, either drawing a foul, making a nice pass or taking it to the hoop.

-- Denzel Valentine also answered the bell when MSU needed him. Valentine finished with 14 points on 4-for-4 shooting (all 2s) and 6-for-8 from the free-throw line. Importantly, two assists and just one turnover.

-- Before leaving with the injury, Gary Harris had picked up where he left off against Indiana. He had 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting (3-for-5 from three). Harris did have just one rebound and four turnovers, however.

-- Branden Dawson quietly put in 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting, along with nine rebounds. That one miss was an always-ill-advised three-pointer in the opening minutes. He had four turnovers, but did have three assists. Those numbers surprise me, because I felt like I never saw Dawson unless he was putting in an alley-oop.


-- I thought Adreian Payne would be more of a factor, but he had eight points on 3-for-6 shooting, with six rebounds, three assists and two turnovers. He went 1-for-3 on 3s. This last stat was bound to happen. Given he's making all his three attempts, he was going to start taking more, and he wasn't going to stay at 80 percent.

-- Derrick Nix finished with eight points on 2-for-4 shooting and a perfect 4-for-4 from the free-throw line. Illinois went with the double-team every single time he touched the ball, with mixed success. Nix didn't kill them inside, but he only turned the ball over once. Nix didn't start because he missed a class and a tutor session. With Nix being 13 hours away from graduating, Izzo is going to make sure that happens.

-- The combination of Alex Gauna (who started), Matt Costello and Russell Byrd played 16 minutes and went 0-for-2 from the field and... that's it. No other contribution. That's going to have to change with these injuries.

Next up is a home game against Minnesota. The Gophers are reeling a bit, but MSU's is starting to limp, and Minnesota has already defeated MSU once this season. I said it before, but if MSU is going to continue in this Big Ten race, they have to win that one. And they're not going to be able to rely on 32 second-half free throws.

(UPDATE: Rexrode talked to Trice's father, who says Travis is OK and could be good for Minnesota. That's obviously huge)