East Lansing — Keith Appling had played 129 straight games entering Thursday’s matchup with Penn State.
For the first time in his college career, he watched from the sideline as his sore right wrist kept him on the bench in a Michigan State sweatsuit.
“The poor guy missed his first game here, and that does a lot to a team,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I don’t want to make too little of it and I don’t want to make too much of it, but we’ve had four of our best players and all five starters out, and it has been hard on me, hard on the staff and hard on the players.”
Michigan State used its 12th different starting lineup in the last 18 games and 13th all season as Travis Trice stepped in for Appling.
It was a move Izzo didn’t expect two days ago. That’s when he found out Appling couldn’t move his wrist and wouldn’t be able to play.
As for looking ahead, Izzo said he had no idea if Appling would be ready for Sunday’s game at Wisconsin.
“There is no time frame,” he said. “They gave him something and it could take a couple of days and I know he won’t practice (today). Whether he goes on Saturday and plays Sunday or we go without him, I wish I could tell you.
“I know this: Of every guy I’ve got on my team, he is the toughest. So if he can play, he’ll play.”
Rallying at the line
When a team shoots just better than 60 percent from the free-throw line in a three-game stretch, you can bet it will spend plenty of extra time at the stripe over the next few practices.
That is especially true for Michigan State, which was 36-for-59 in its last three games entering Thursday’s matchup with Penn State.
Izzo blamed two losses on free throws and pushed his players early in the week, having them come in early each day to work on free throws.
“It’s really not a punishment,” Izzo explained. “You don’t ever want to get drastic with shooting stuff because it becomes mental. But the only way that I’ve ever known in my whole career is you’ve just gotta work your way out of it. And so that’s what I’m telling our guys, we’re just gonna work our way out of it.”
It started to pay off on Thursday as the Spartans went 14-for-18.
“Give (assistant coach) Dwayne Stephens credit,” Izzo said. “He had guys in there every day at seven in the morning this week shooting free throws. We shot very well from the line.”
Michigan State improved to 33-7 all-time against Penn State and moved its home mark to 19-1, including 17-1 at the Breslin Center.
… Michigan State recorded its 14th 20-win season in the last 17 years, all with Izzo as the head coach.
… Trice played a career-high 34 minutes.