LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
Keith Appling was quite a clutch player for Michigan State earlier this season, making plays for himself and teammates late in games to help the Spartans surpass relatively modest expectations.
Lately, the junior guard has simply struggled at both ends of the court.
Appling has scored in single digits in every game during a three-game losing streak that has knocked the Spartans out of first place in the Big Ten and to No. 10 in The Associated Press college basketball poll.
Even Appling will acknowledge he is struggling at both ends of the court.
“Yeah, I would agree with that,” he said softly Sunday after his poor play let rival Michigan steal a one-point win at home.
Appling is also quick to say he still has confidence in his ability to have success this season.
“Things just haven’t been going my way lately, but I’m a mentally tough person,” he said. “So, I don’t let it bother me too much. I just watch the film and try to grow from it.”
His next chance is Thursday night at home against No. 22 Wisconsin.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said last week that he was confident Appling would bounce back at Michigan, but he didn’t.
Appling missed six of nine shots — limiting him to nine points —and had six rebounds, five assists and two turnovers, one of which was very costly.
“It’s going to take a championship to get over this one because it’s a feeling that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to swallow that we couldn’t beat these guys again,” he said, choking up. “Hopefully, we can win the championship so we can feel a little better. We still have a couple more games left in the regular season and we’ve got to finish strong.”
Appling had the ball with the shot clock off and the score tied. He turned his head to see if Izzo wanted him to call time out. Michigan’s Trey Burke snatched the ball away and raced to the other end for a dunk with 22 seconds left for the game’s last field goal.
“I thought Coach was going to call time out,” Appling said. “But at the same time, I’ve still got to be aware of what’s going on and protect the ball. He made a great defensive play, it was one of the reasons they won the game.”
On the final sequence, Appling was open on the left wing in front of his team’s bench — saying he was confident in his chances to take and make a game-winning shot — but Burke intercepted Gary Harris’ pass to seal the 58-57 victory.
Harris, a freshman, who has surpassed Appling as the team’s leading scorer, said he doesn’t have to say anything to Appling to help him shake off his slump.
“He’s confident and we have full confidence in him,” Harris said.
And, Izzo insisted Appling’s latest lackluster performance doesn’t make him worry.
“I’m really not,” Izzo said. “I thought in a way he pushed the ball, and most of the time he checked pretty well. He got in foul trouble there to change some things. He pushed the ball a lot better than he’s been pushing it. He missed some shots, but that last play, give Burke credit.
“I don’t blame that on Appling.”
Appling’s teammates don’t, either.
“We ask him to do a lot,” forward Adreian Payne said. “It’s hard being a point guard. We as a team have to be able to help him. Yeah, he’s struggling, but everybody struggles and we’re going to be here to pick him up.”
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