Appling getting his swagger back

(Max Siker)

Spartans point guard hits some jumpers and plays with a confidence that hasn't been seen lately in win against Wisconsin on Saturday. His teammates say he is back, but what does he think?

Warming up for the second half of Michigan State's win against Wisconsin, Keith Appling stood in the corner shooting 3's.

Matt Costello stood next to him, in his ear after each shot.

"I was just telling him to hit them," Costello said. "We are all rooting for him."

The senior point guard has been up and down since his return from a wrist injury eight games ago. From confidence to physically working on his shot, he has struggled to regain the early season form that had him playing at an elite level.

With eight second-half points in the 83-75 win Saturday, a little bit of that form – and a little bit of swagger – was evident again.

"It felt pretty good to see the ball go through hoop a couple times," he said. "I feel like that kind of got me going on both ends of the floor."

He finished with 10 points, just shy of the 12 he posted against Iowa nine days earlier, but it was how he played throughout his 37 minutes that made this game different.

"You could tell when a guy goes under a screen and he steps back with the confidence to knock it down that he's back," guard Travis Trice said. "Even the Iowa game when he hit those two 3s, it was good to see it go through but he still wasn't himself.

"Tonight, he was attacking the rim and getting other guys involved so I think he's back now. All the way back."

As Wisconsin started making an early-second half run to close the 17-point halftime deficit, it was Appling who kept the Badgers at arm's length.

He traded baskets back and forth with Wisconsin on consecutive possessions – both jumpers – to push the lead back to 12 each time. At that time, Gary Harris said he knew the real Appling was back on the court.

"When they were sagging off of him and he smacked his lips as a form of disrespect," Harris said. "He took the shot and made it. I was like, ‘Oh, here he goes.'"

The senior also had six assists against Wisconsin, continuing to push the ball up court and get out in transition. The emphasis that Tom Izzo placed on the importance of fastbreak baskets was focused on Appling and he has been at the head of it in the past two games as the Spartans have a 32-11 advantage in fastbreak points.

"We are a better team when we get in the open court and make things happen," Appling said. "Once we do that, we get more opportunities."

And more opportunities will continue to come to the Spartans as Appling continues to become more like the player he was early in the season, but his teammates say he is back to that now. Just like Trice, Harris and Denzel Valentine said he has his mojo back.

"We kept messing with Keith while were playing saying, ‘Welcome back, Keith, welcome back,'" Harris said. "Just seeing him making shots and running and finishing at the basket is huge for us."

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