ATLANTA -- Quick thoughts from Michigan State’s 67-64 win over Kansas in the first game of the Champions Classic.
Overview: If this is what November looks like, we could be in for a heckuva basketball season. The Spartans and Jayhawks, two teams that match up almost equally strength to strength, put on a highly entertaining, high-intensity game to open the Champions Classic.
In fact, if we can restage this sort of game -- insert whatever participants you’d like -- in the last weekend of the season, that would be just fine. Seriously. This was March Madness good.
In the first half, it was all up-tempo offense, with Kansas shooting 52 percent and Michigan State 50. Not surprisingly, that changed a bit in the second. You probably can imagine the halftime conversations.
The second half, while slightly more plodding, was no less entertaining, a grudge muscle match, with neither team able to build anything close to a sustainable lead.
Both Kansas and Michigan State have a habit of getting better as the season progresses. If that’s true, watch out.
Turning point: With Michigan State clinging to a one-point lead, Keith Appling drained a 3 from the top of the key, using Jeff Withey to screen his own player. Withey blocked Elijah Johnson from the play, and when Johnson tried to come around Withey to get back to Appling, Appling just stepped back.
Nothing but net. In a game like this, a four-point lead was huge.
Key player: Keith Appling is like the girl with the curl. When he’s good, he’s very very good, and against Kansas, he was spectacular. Appling scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half, including the clinchers in the final minute. He followed his 3-point dagger with a sweet drive to the hoop for a reverse layup that all but sealed the win for Michigan State.
Key stat: 13-of-21. That’s what Michigan State’s backcourt of Appling and Gary Harris shot, combining for 37 points and all but owning the second half for the Spartans.
Miscellaneous: Gary Harris is as good as advertised. That’s all I have to say about that. ... The ocean-crossing Spartans hopped a direct flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to Detroit following their Armed Forces Classic loss to Connecticut on Friday. MSU landed around 1:30 p.m. Detroit time Saturday, practiced twice Sunday and then flew to Atlanta on Monday. Good thing they’re young. ... In a solidly played game, Kansas freshman Jamari Traylor got the oh-my-goodness moment, throwing down a monster jam that elicited a collective "Oh!" from the Georgia Dome crowd.
Next game: The road-weary Spartans actually get a run of home games with the Spartan Showcase, which begins Sunday. Michigan State hosts Texas Southern in the opener. Kansas, meanwhile, will play in the CBE Classic in Kansas City, facing Chattanooga on Thursday.