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Appling disappears as Spartans get bounced

Izzo's club falls to 6-2 in last 8 Elite 8 games

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Spartans came out tentative and sloppy and the Connecticut Huskies did not wait around for them to figure it out. Michigan State dug themselves a ten point deficit in the first half as they began shooting just 1-9 from the floor. Then Tom Izzo's squad woke up and realized what was on the line. They went back to their calling card as a program, defense and rebounding and turned that into a 23-9 run to close the half and completely turned the momentum of the game on its head going into the break. UCONN thrived early due in large part to plenty of MSU turnovers. But as the Spartans started to get stops and get out in transition, they finally began to put the ball in the basket on the strength of six first half three pointers.

After a blistering start to the second half MSU all of a sudden went ice cold. If it wasn't for the relentless effort of senior Adreian Payne and likely first round pick Gary Harris, this game might not have ended as close as it was. There were two storylines that stood out throughout this game and this tournament for both teams. For the Spartans it was the complete disappearance of senior point guard Keith Appling. A staple in this program for the last four years Appling managed just nine points in four tournament games to finish his career including just three today on three shots. His foul on Shabazz Napier's three pointer with under a minute to play will unfortunately be the last image that Spartan fans remember when they think back to this tournament about Appling. It was a sad way for a great player for a great program to go out.

On the other hand, Shabazz Napier was nothing short of brilliant. The other senior point guard finished with 25 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists, including his jumper from the elbow to put UCONN up 4 with just over a minute to play in regulation. Napier and his backcourt counterpart Ryan Boatright combined for 36 points including a perfect 13-13 at the free throw line. Napier's three free throws at the end to clinch it didn't even touch the rim as they swished through the basket. It's safe to say the difference in this game fell on the lack of MSU's backcourt tandem's production. Fair or not, with one game away from this senior class reaching its first Final Four, the most experienced senior in this Michigan State program didn't hold up his end of the bargain.