Michigan State's Keith Appling appears poised to make this his breakout season.
The 15th-ranked Spartans will see what their fast-rising junior can do next as they host Louisiana-Lafayette in the final game of the Spartan Showcase on Sunday.Appling, who made a clutch three-point play in the final minute of a 74-70 win over Boise State on Nov. 20, followed up with a much-needed gutsy performance on Friday.After limping off the court with a sprained right ankle late in the first half, the point guard shook it off to finish with 20 points and lead Michigan State (4-1) past Oakland 70-52."At first, I got scared," Appling said. "That didn't seem like an average ankle roll. After I calmed down and took a couple deep breaths, I was able to walk on it."Since the short-handed Spartans can't afford to lose their top playmaker, Appling will continue to log heavy minutes as they look to sweep the Spartan Showcase on Sunday.Appling has played 78 minutes out of necessity the past two games with guards Gary Harris (shoulder) and Travis Trice (concussion) both out of action."There's some other great guards in this league," coach Tom Izzo said. "Some do a lot on the offensive end, a couple are great defenders, he's doing both and he's doing it with no backup."Aside from posting four points in a blowout win over Texas Southern on Nov. 18, Appling has averaged 19.5 points on 50.9 percent shooting with nine 3-pointers.He's also averaged 4.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals while playing strong defense in the four games."I'm not an easy guy to please," Izzo said. "But I'm really excited for him and proud of him for what he's doing right now in an incredible way."Izzo also received a major contribution from Adreian Payne, who finished with 15 points and nine rebounds in his best effort of the season. The junior center is shooting 76.0 percent from the field.Derrick Nix added 10 points and seven rebounds for the Spartans, who have outrebounded all five opponents this season and have a rebound margin of plus 9.2 thus far.The Spartans have shot 52.0 percent in winning four straight since a season-opening loss to Connecticut in Germany.The Ragin' Cajuns (2-3), however, have struggled with their shooting touch at 34.2 percent in their three losses. They're also coming off their worst shooting effort since Jan. 31, 2009.Louisiana-Lafayette made just 19 of 64 (29.7 percent) from the field on Friday, falling behind by as many as 37 in the second half of a 79-57 loss at New Mexico State.Steven Wronkoski had 16 points on four 3-pointers, while Shawn Long added 15 in the loss.Long has reached double figures in four of the team's five games and leads the Ragin' Cajuns at 15.0 points per game.Louisiana-Lafayette has forced opponents into 19.2 turnovers per game, while recording 8.8 steals per contest. Rebounding, though, has been an issue as the Ragin' Cajuns have been outrebounded by 6.2 per contest and given up at least nine offensive rebounds in every game.The Ragin' Cajuns, who hasn't played Michigan State since 1982, will try to end the Spartans' streak of 48 consecutive wins at home under Izzo in November. They also have a 10-game losing streak to ranked opponents since winning 79-76 at then-No. 12 Mississippi State on Nov. 23, 2002.