February 11, 2014 at 8:17 pm

Michigan State's Keith Appling doesn't regret playing through the pain

Tom Izzo MSU update
Tom Izzo MSU update: Michigan State's coach talks about the loss to Wisconsin and the return of Adreian Payne.

East Lansing — For nearly the entire season, Keith Appling had the same response when asked about his sore right wrist — it wasn’t an excuse.

When Appling’s shooting began to suffer after hurting the wrist for the first time Dec. 4 in a loss to North Carolina, he wouldn’t say it was because of the wrist. And when his free-throw shooting went from reliable to inconsistent, at best, he called using the injury as the reason a “cop-out.” All the while he was dealing with a sore hip he also hurt for the first time in the North Carolina game.

But now that the senior point guard has missed two games — the first two of his Michigan State career — he admits maybe his own toughness did him in.

“I’ve just always only known one way,” he said after sitting out Michigan State’s practice Tuesday. “Whenever you feel a little pain, you’ve just got to fight through it. That’s how I was brought up and that’s all I know. Maybe I let it linger for too long in letting it get where it is, but right now I can’t do anything about it except continue to rehab and hope that it gets better.”

When it is good enough to play is the biggest question. Appling wouldn’t put a timetable on it, though he did at least take some short-range shots after practice. Coach Tom Tom Izzo doesn’t expect Appling to play this week.

No. 9 Michigan State hosts Northwestern Thursday and Nebraska on Sunday, and as much as it pains Izzo to be dealing with another injury to a key player, he said it’s nothing compared to what Appling is going through.

“I have respect for Keith and how he’s handled it,” Izzo said. “He’s played a little hurt where it got bad enough where he couldn’t do the things he wanted to do or he thought it was really affecting him. Even now if you see him on the bench he looks dead. I mean he’s bummed out.

“I was starting to add it up, I think he went through over 450 practices without missing a practice. So this guy never missed a game until he missed that game. So this isn’t your normal athlete and he’s been hurt before, he’s just played through it. He’s played pretty well, even when he hurt the wrist originally. And when he hurt the hip he was way worse off then and he had some big games during that part.”

Appling said it was early last week when he took extra jump shots on an off day that the wrist took a turn for the worse. Since then, he has tried numerous types of rehab, including massage and acupuncture.

He said it has improved, but missing a game for first time since his junior season at Detroit Pershing hadn’t been easy.

“It’s tough,” he said. “Especially seeing my teammates battle for 40 minutes and I’m not in there to help them. It’s hard for me to go through that right now. At the same time I’ve got to be mentally tough and fight through what I’m going through.”

Appling is just the latest Spartan to miss time because of an injury. The most recent blows have been the seven games missed by forward Adreian Payne (sprained right foot), who returned two games ago, and forward Branden Dawson (broken right hand), who now has missed five games.

But Izzo doesn’t regret the way Appling was used leading up to the time off.

“You gotta go by what the person says,” Izzo said. “In his case, yeah he said it was sore but do you want to sit out? ‘No, I’m not sitting out.’ He told me that the day he sat out. I don’t look at it as we should have done anything earlier. Plus, Keith Appling’s a guy that’s really come on this year. He’s a player of the year candidate. If it’s not anything that’s structurally gonna hurt you for the long run or for your career, I mean, a lot of guys play through injuries.”

As for Dawson, Izzo said he will have the pins removed from his hand Feb. 20, the same day Michigan State plays at Purdue. Three days later, the Spartans visit Michigan, which would seem to set up for the perfect time for both Dawson and Appling to return.

“If I’m a betting man I would say he is going to come back as quick as any man in the country,” Izzo said of Dawson. “I told you the day it happened or the day after, I think this could be a turning point for Branden Dawson, I really do. And we’re going to make a negative into a positive, so he is on track, but there will be nothing in the next week and a half for sure.”

And while Izzo admitted his team, assuming it gets everyone back soon, will be fresh and ready for the postseason, he has other goals in mind.

“First of all we have the Big Ten championship that I’d really like to win,” he said. “And we’ve put ourselves in position where we have the chance to do that.

“The bottom line is if I get them back in the next week or two and we keep everybody healthy, I think this team has a chance to be damn good. I mean really good. We’ll find out.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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Keith Appling initially injured his wrist against North Carolina on Dec. 4. / Dale G. Young / Detroit News