EAST LANSING (LANSING STATE JOURNAL) — Michigan State said good-bye to its point guard Thursday night.
The Spartans said hello to him, too.
The last game of the season at Breslin Center, an 86-76 win for No. 22 MSU over No. 24 Iowa, served many of the Spartans' needs — to feel good about themselves again, to start rebuilding their chemistry, to honor seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne.
Most of all, it was about the return of Appling as an offensive contributor, as a player with the confidence to matter on both ends of the floor. That was MSU's biggest concern with the postseason looming, and it was eased significantly by his 12-point, three-assist, high-energy performance.
"We're kind of getting it all back together now … it feels great," Appling said.
"When the head dies, the body goes," MSU coach Tom Izzo said of the point guard's impact on a team. "The head had been knocked unconscious there for a few weeks."
Appling hadn't connected on a three-pointer since a Jan. 28 win at Iowa, and he hit two on his senior day. They also marked his first jump shots to fall since before a right wrist injury knocked him out for three games in February.
The crowd roared for both, just as they did for an earlier swish that didn't count because of a whistle before Appling launched it.
"Our fans really took some ownership in him and I really think they appreciate that he … he's been going through some hell," Izzo said of Appling, who had a lackluster first half and heard all about it from his coach during the break.
Appling called the conversation with Izzo "intense" and "definitely one-way," and asked to recap it, he said: "I could try to re-word it for you."
It seemed to work. Appling had five points in a 9-0 run to start the second half, during which Dick Vitale — calling the game for ESPN – tweeted: "Appling finally looks like Appling!"
The victory ensures MSU (23-7, 12-5 Big Ten) will get a bye on the first day of the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis, and will not match the record for Breslin losses in one season — five, set in 1992-93 and matched in 1995-96, Izzo's first season as head coach.
It wrapped appropriately with Appling and Payne kissing the Spartan head at center court with a minute left as they were pulled from the game. They gave brief speeches at their ceremony afterward, along with Izzo and senior walk-on guard Dan Chapman.
Payne entered carrying 8-year-old Lacey Holsworth of St. Johns, a girl battling cancer who has become a close friend of his in the past couple years.
"We had a lot of injuries and excuses, and now it's time to man up and do what we've got to do," Payne said to the Breslin crowd of this season and the postseason to come.
"We've been through a hell of a lot this year, gang," Izzo said to the crowd after thanking them for staying. "And I said if we could catch fire like we did in that second half and build a little confidence and watching that three go in by Keith and how everybody reacted … we've got a lot of basketball left."
Izzo finished by telling the crowd: "If you're really good, we'll see you in Dallas!"
Appling's backup, Travis Trice, came off the bench to lead MSU with 17 points. Payne scored 14 points, Denzel Valentine had 13 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and sophomore Gary Harris scored 12 in what may also be his final game at Breslin.
Roy Devyn Marble (Southfield Lathrup) led Iowa (20-10, 9-8) with 24 points, but the Hawkeyes trailed by as much as 19 and let MSU shoot 58.3 percent from the floor.