East Lansing — There were plenty of built-in excuses all ready for Michigan State on Tuesday as it hosted Ohio State in a battle of top-five teams.
Travis Trice was sick and did not play and Adreian Payne was out of the starting lineup nursing sprained right foot. And midway through the first half, Keith Appling was suffering from cramps in both calves.
But fortunately for the Spartans, Appling and Payne turned in what coach Tom Izzo called a “heroic” effort, saving No. 5 Michigan State from a potentially devastating loss and instead delivering a 72-68 victory in overtime against No. 3 Ohio State.
On a night the football team was honored for its Rose Bowl victory over Stanford last week, the senior Spartans weren’t about to disappoint. Appling scored 20 points, with 14 coming after halftime, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 29 seconds left in overtime to put Michigan State (14-1, 3-0 Big Ten) ahead for good.
“I just saw him backing off me a little bit,” Appling said. “Whenever I see a defender on his heels, I stop and pop. Luckily enough it fell for me, so I’m not complaining about it.”
Neither was Izzo, who had to ride Appling for 43 minutes, despite the fact he had trouble standing up straight in the second half.
“I’m watching Appling tighten up like a rock right in front of my eyes,” Izzo said. “Write about his character because he sucked it up. … He was hurting.”
With Trice out and Denzel Valentine fouling out late in the second half, there was no chance for Appling to take a break. Not that he planned to sit.
“Even if Travis was still playing, I would have sucked it up,” Appling said. “I just know my teammates need me out there and I wanted to win the game.”
And Appling proved how much his team needed him on the final sequence of regulation. The Spartans were in the midst of blowing a 17-point lead in the final eight minutes when Appling turned the ball over and Ohio State’s Shannon Scott went racing in for what appeared to be the winning layup.
But Appling chased him back and got a piece of the ball as Payne swatted the rebound away.
“He is a special player,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said of Appling. “He’s won a ton of basketball games. He is difficult to guard and hit some big free throws and some big shots down the stretch.”
Appling had plenty of help from Payne, who didn’t start but still played 32 minutes, scoring 18 points and grabbing six rebounds. He had two put-back dunks as Michigan State pulled away early in the second half then hit a big 3-pointer in overtime.
Izzo said Payne was in tears before the game thinking he would play, but Payne said there was no way he was staying on the bench.
“A lot of people learned something about Adreian Payne tonight,” Izzo said.
Sam Thompson scored 18 for the Buckeyes, who lost for the first time this season. Marc Loving added 10 points while Aaron Craft and Scott scored nine apiece.
Ohio State (15-1, 2-1) ended the second half on a 20-3 run to tie the game, including a play when Craft through an inbounds pass of Payne’s backside, grabbed the ball and scored to cut Michigan State’s lead to 57-56.
“I did that a year ago,” Craft said. “I saw it was open and we wanted to get a quick score.”
Ohio State took a 60-58 lead in overtime and after a Payne free throw cut the deficit to one, redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski hit a 3-pointer to put MSU ahead 62-60. It was his third of the game. After Loving split a pair of free throws, Payne hit a 3-pointer and Harris added a free throw. But Craft scored on a drive to the hoop and Thompson hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 66.
Appling then hit his decisive 3-pointer before hitting three free throws and bothering Loving on a 3-point attempt in the final seconds.
“I should be happier than I am,” Izzo said. “But I’m a big picture guy and you shouldn’t have those kinds of letdowns. … I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the next game, but we’re going to be a little more ready the next game. That I promise. We survived and great teams have to survive. I think we’re a damn good team, but I don’t know where we’re at right now.”
Izzo said Trice started to get sick before the Indiana game on Saturday and hasn’t been in the basketball facility for the past three days.
“We are beat up and it’s the same old story and I’m getting sick of it,” Izzo said.
Payne’s sprained right foot is likely the result of compensating for the plantar fasciitis he has been suffering from. And Gary Harris is still coming back from his sprained right ankle but played 42 minutes.
“Of all the games to miss Trice, this game was the hardest,” Izzo said, “with the pressure those guards put on you and the way they play.”