The stage was set and the show began.
Brandon Wood poured in 11 points in the game’s first 12 minutes.The Indiana youth giant Cody Zeller proved moot and entirely obsolete. Derrick Nix, Draymond Green and Branden Dawson co-starred in the opening act, leaving the audience enraptured by the performances.
The Spartans blocked, stole and scored their way to a 34-16 lead. The rout was on and all was going according to plan.
Until … Act 2: the Hoosiers swing the show back in their favor. Christian Watford slashes and shoots his team back into it. Matt Roth brings some drama and drops some jaws with two deep, deep threes.
Intermission arrived and the Spartans took a seven-point lead behind the curtain.
Act 3 opened and was eerily similar to Act 2. Indiana stole the show for the first nine minutes, rolling its way to a 54-45 lead behind Watford and Victor Oladipo.
Enter the star of the show in Act 4: Keith Appling.
On the next MSU possession, Appling found himself with a bigger defender in front of him. He crossed over, gave him a shoulder fake, drove into the paint and left his feet, drawing the foul while gracefully turning his body and laying it up and in with a beautiful little finger roll as he fell to the ground. And-one. Three-point play.
Toss in a nice pass to Austin Thornton for two.
Next go-round, he steals the ball on a bad Indiana pass and breaks away down the court. Indiana’s Jordan Hulls catches the back of Appling’s foot, knocking him off balance. Appling stumbled for a couple steps, tossed the ball toward the hoop. Good. Count it. And one. Three-point play.
Give the star a rest at the 9:16 mark. He watches from the sideline as Adreian Payne scores twice on offensive rebounds. As the moment builds for his return, Thornton snares a loose ball and throws it ahead to a streaking Wood, who with every inch he has leaps and throws it down emphatically.
Fired up, the Spartans defense forces a shot clock violation — the second in three Hoosier possessions.
Welcome back, Appling. At the 6:36 mark, he returns. And promptly, the high point hits:
The action slows, some physical play breaks the pace of the show. Then, an old friend and one of the supporting stars has his brightest moment in a night where he had many, complementing the leader who finishes the effort.
Not to diminish from the overall character of the star, the 6-foot-1 athlete skies and takes on a 6-foot-5 opponent. And wins.
Seven easily made free throws and about two minutes later, Hulls misses the final shot and, fittingly, Appling soars to pull down the rebound and dribbles the rest of the clock away.
The line for Appling: 25 points, seven assists and six rebounds. The line for the Spartans: An 80-65 win against the previously unbeaten Hoosiers.
Postgame review from Indiana coach Tom Crean: “And the guy that plays like he is a serious veteran is Keith Appling. He played like that tonight … He played like an elite-level guard.”