Nicholls-Michigan St. Preview

The Associated Press

Michigan State is still trying to figure out how to best utilize its suddenly crowded backcourt.

The 13th-ranked Spartans will get another chance to see how the pieces fit with guards Gary Harris and Travis Trice back in the rotation on Saturday when they host Nicholls State.

After missing almost three full games with a shoulder strain, Harris scored 12 points in his return on Wednesday night in Michigan State's 67-59 loss at Miami in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Harris was leading the Spartans at 16.0 points per game before going down in the opening minute of a four-point win over Boise State on Nov. 20.

Trice also rejoined the team on Wednesday for the first time since suffering a concussion in its season-opening loss to Connecticut on Nov. 13. The sophomore guard finished with nine points in 12 minutes for the Spartans (5-2).

''There were bright spots with those two guys back," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

While Harris and Trice had their moments in the first half, the Spartans had a tough time finding the right mix in as their five-game winning streak came to an end. The Spartans managed to cut down their turnovers to 12 after totaling 20 in each of the past two games, but they shot just 40.2 percent from the field, 5 of 11 from the line and ended up with a season low in points.

"It's going to get better once we get our rotation down," Izzo said. "I still like where I think we've got a chance to go, but I sure don't like it right now.''

Keith Appling, who had played at least 38 minutes in three straight games with Harris and Trice out, finished with 15 points in 33 minutes.

The junior point guard has carried the Spartans throughout their injury-plagued start, averaging 19.0 points over his last four games.

Brandon Dawson, another guard, also reached double figures with 11. The sophomore is shooting 56.5 percent and has a team-best 18 steals.

Despite the loss, the Spartans continued to dominate in the paint with a 34-10 scoring advantage over Miami and have outscored opponents inside by 11.5 points per game (34.9-23.4) this season.

Michigan State, though, uncharacteristically struggled defensively as the Hurricanes shot 47.7 percent and made 9 of 16 from 3-point range. The Spartans are limiting opponents to 38.6 percent shooting overall and 32.0 percent from beyond the arc.

Now, they'll have to slow down a Nicholls State team that shot a season-high 60.4 percent from the field on Monday night in a 92-79 victory over New Orleans.

The Colonels' (1-2) first win came after a 10-day layoff following double-digit losses at then-No. 14 Missouri and Vanderbilt.

"It felt good to get win and get back out there and playing again," said guard Fred Hunter, who leads the team at 21.7 points per game and scored 15 of his 22 in the first half Monday.

Nicholls State, though, has been outscored by an average or 32.7 points in losing all 15 of its games against Top 25 teams dating back to the 1997-98 season. The Colonels are opening a seven-game road swing with this contest that also includes three games in the World Vision Challenge hosted by Utah State.

Michigan State has won both teams between the schools, including a 102-52 rout in the most recent meeting in 2004.