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Appling shoots Michigan State past Kansas

The SportsXchange

ATLANTA -- Junior guard Keith Appling scored 16 of his game-high 19 points in the second half to help No. 21 Michigan State earn a 67-64 comeback victory over No. 7 Kansas in the Champions Classic at the Georgia Dome, site of the 2013 NCAA Final Four.

Appling made five of seven field goals in the second half, including both 3-point attempts, for the Spartans. He also made all four of his free throws in the game.

Michigan State (1-1) lost its season opener to Connecticut in Germany on Friday night. Kansas (1-1) beat Southeast Missouri State on Friday in its opener.

Spartans coach Tom Izzo said he was proud of Appling because the guard worked so hard in the offseason on his shooting. Izzo said Appling watched more film and fell in love with the game between seasons.

"We talk about inside-out 3s, I thought Keith, he made a couple," Izzo said. "It's a tribute to him because he was not a very good shooter last year, as we all know."

Appling was the only player to start all 37 games for Michigan State last season, when he made third-team All-Big Ten. He averaged 11.4 points and 3.9 assists, which ranked second and first on the team, respectively. The junior from Detroit shot 42.7 percent from the field last season and only 25 percent on 3-pointers.

Two key plays by Appling on Tuesday helped to push Michigan State over the top. Kansas left him wide open for a 3-pointer with 1:33 left in regulation to put the Spartans on top 65-61. Kansas coach Bill Self said the Jayhawks misplayed a ball screen, leading to a crucial basket.

Appling said, "The offense was kind of stagnant, so I just kind of wanted to make a play any way I could. ... From there, it was all she wrote."

Then, with the Spartans clinging to a 65-64 lead and the shot clock expiring, Appling drove to the basket and made a layup with 13.8 seconds left, putting Michigan State on top 67-64.

"Appling took the game over, and (Spartans guard Gary) Harris played very well," Self said. "They controlled the game late."

Kansas guard Travis Releford's 3-point try to tie the game failed at the buzzer.

"We ended up getting a good look," Self said.

After trailing for all but 20 seconds in the second half, the Spartans took the lead for good at 60-59 with 2:50 remaining on a Derrick Nix free throw. Kansas' largest lead was seven points, with 12:02 to play.

Harris scored 18 points for Michigan State.

Elijah Johnson led Kansas with 16 points, while freshman Ben McLemore added 14 points.

Both teams shot the ball well, with Michigan State hitting 52.1 percent of its shots (25 of 48) and Kansas making half of its attempts (24 of 48).

In a game that featured 11 lead changes and 12 ties overall -- Izzo described it as a "grind" and "smash-mouth" -- neither team could pull away from the other in the first half, with Kansas taking a 35-32 lead at halftime.

With 4:58 left in the half, Kansas completed an 8-2 run, with forward Justin Wesley contributing four of those points, to take a 33-28 lead. That was the largest margin of the first 20 minutes for either team.

Johnson and McLemore led the Jayhawks in the first half with seven points apiece. The Spartans mostly held Jayhawks senior 7-footer Jeff Withey in check. Withey, who led Kansas with 17 points against Southeast Missouri State, was held to four in the half and eight in the game.

Harris, a 6-4 freshman, led Michigan State in scoring at halftime with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field. Sophomore forward Alex Gauna made all three of his attempts from the field to finish with six points at the break, while 6-9 center Nix also contributed six.

NOTES: Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, who played for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, was in attendance. The Blue Devils played Kentucky in the second game of the doubleheader. ... Michigan State leads the series with Kansas 6-4. The first game was played in 1960. ... The Spartans improved to 3-0 at the Georgia Dome, having defeated Gonzaga and Temple at the 2001 NCAA Tournament South Regional.
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