Keith Appling took control in second half of Michigan State's Coaches vs. Cancer Classic win, going for 27 points and earning tournament MVP honors as Spartans defeated Oklahoma 87-76. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)
It may not have been the most beautiful victory, but a win is still a win.
Surviving a late really from a valiant Oklahoma (4-1) team that took the court 24 hours after a come-from-behind win against Seton Hall, the No. 1 team in the nation pulled out all the stops when it mattered most, as Michigan State (6-0) outlasted the Sooners 87-76, taking the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic championship at Brooklyn's Barclays Center.
"It shows a little character that you can figure out a way to win a game," Spartans head coach Tom Izzo remarked after the game. "We're not a 'pretty boy' team. I don't want to be a white-collar team."
Michigan State, who put up 96 points against Virginia Tech Friday night, was anything but white-collar, allowing Oklahoma to take an early first half lead and then drawing them back into the game midway through the second half before Keith Appling took matters into his own hands, willing his team to victory in much the same way his predecessor Kalin Lucas did for the Spartans at the point guard position for four years in East Lansing.
"What I liked about him was that he took over under control," Izzo said of Appling, whose 27 points led the Spartans and helped earn him tournament Most Valuable Player honors to go with a 13-point, 7-assist, no-turnover line against Virginia Tech. Gary Harris chipped in with 21 points for Michigan State, while Branden Dawson; deemed an unsung hero by Izzo after the game, posted his second consecutive double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Earlier in the evening, Seton Hall held off Virginia Tech in the consolation game of the tournament, defeating the Hokies 68-67 after Fuquan Edwin atoned for his mental error against Oklahoma with a three-pointer in the final minute to lift Kevin Willard and the Pirates to victory, but the night clearly belonged to Michigan State, whose win added to a day-long celebration of the Spartan football team clinching a spot in the Big Ten championship game against undefeated Ohio State.
"What I'm most proud of today," Izzo; sporting a Big Ten Legends Division championship hat sent to him by Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio, opened his postgame press conference by saying, "(is that) two revenue sports at Michigan State won a championship."