Appling: "It's extremely painful"

Appling: "It's extremely painful"

Michigan State senior suffers brutal end to his career after fouling out in loss to UConn. It was an end that was a far cry from a season that started with so much promise for the point guard.

Keith Appling buried his head in his hands. There it stayed.

Softly answering question after question about what happened on his fifth foul and not making the Final Four, he never looked up.

It was an ending he never saw coming.

It was a foregone conclusion he would wear a Michigan State uniform in the Final Four during his four years. Every player before Appling and classmate Adreian Payne under Tom Izzo had, after all.

So there was no solace in the fact that he had just advanced the deepest into the NCAA Tournament in his career.

"Our goal was to reach the Final Four and the fact that my senior year is the year that the streak stops, it's extremely painful right now," he said. "It's tough to even talk about it. One thing that coach said was that streaks are meant to be broken.

"I just never would have that it would be my senior year that it would stop."

It had been the talk all year. When the Spartans started off 18-1, Appling said it was a good accomplishment, but not one of the goals.

But the ending set in late Sunday. Appling fouled out with 30.6 seconds left, immediately putting his hands on his head in disbelief at the sound of whistle.

He knew Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier was going to shoot the ball. He had watched film and he knew the shot was coming. But the call was made.

As he walked to the other corner of the court and the Spartans bench, reality seemed to set in. The Final Four in Dallas was out of his control and likely out of reach. The 1,500 miles or so between Madison Square Garden and AT&T Stadium might as well have numbered in the millions.

He put his hands on his knees, walked over and sat down. A towel went over his head. He finished with two points in his final college game.

As he walked past Izzo, the coach shared a moment with his senior point guard.

"I just thanked him for his four years," Izzo said. "He's been through a lot this year."

It was a brutal end to a season that looked like it would be one that ended with national accolades for the point guard. He was well on his way with four games with 20 or more points and seven or more assists in his first 15 games of the season.

At that time, he was averaging more than 20 points per game and hitting 47 percent from 3-point range.

Four games later against Indiana, he reinjured a right wrist injury initially suffered against North Carolina on Dec. 4. In the next 16 games he played in, he made 3s in just two games and had double-digit points just twice after missing three games in February.

"We all know he's not probably half the player he was," Izzo said. "It's not from lack of work, it's just the cards that were dealt."

The impact carried over to the mental side of the game as suddenly he went from potential All-America candidate to essentially a game manager. On a team without a clear-cut leader, the onus had fallen on Appling, but with his own confidence shaken, that too began to suffer.

"Jud Heathcote had a great line, and it's true: It's hard to lead other when you're struggling with your own game," Izzo said. "Not only was he struggling with his own game, but you just knew the things he had done, the things he had worked on all spring, summer and fall on. You saw it. He couldn't shoot the ball. He worked. He was in there mornings working. Some of it was his confidence, some of it was his confidence went and yet I thought he did more than you think tonight, guarding Shabazz."

Ending a season playing so differently than when it started certainly made Sunday's loss tougher, but Appling wasn't about to say so.

"Somewhat," he said. "At the end of the day, if I continue to play then I'm going to be expected to do the things that I'm capable of doing.

"That's just an excuse and that's something that would never come out of my mouth."

It was a similar response to what Appling offered up all season when asked about his wrist. From the impact it had on his shot to the mental element, he answered questions, but didn't let it be an excuse.

"He's hung in there," Izzo said. "He hasn't really complained about it. He dealt with it. I'm not sure I could have done as good a job as Keith did."

The Michigan State coach delivered a message to his players after the season-ending loss. He mentioned the adversity faced through injuries to more than half the roster at various points and what they accomplished – likely mentioning a Big Ten title and winning 29 games. But it wasn't going to settle in with Appling.

"It's just tough to appreciate any of that right now because of what was at stake and we had the opportunity," he said.

His head sinking lower, still hidden behind his hands, he took a question about the positive memories of his four years at Michigan State.

"Right now, none," he said.

There was just one memory on his mind.

"Coming off a loss like that, it's tough to even look back at the things that we did. I guess over time."

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