When Tom Izzo told Michigan State point guard Keith Appling to take over, the smallest starter on the court made all the big plays his team needed to pull out a victory.
Appling scored 22 points while Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine made key contributions as slow-starting Michigan State rallied twice to beat Boise State 74-70 on Tuesday night.
"I just knew that he was putting the ball in my hands, and I had to make it happen for the team," Appling said after taking over with a five-point deficit in the final eight-and-a-half minutes.
Appling was 8-for-14 from the field and delivered the critical three-point play in the final minute.
Valentine had 12 points in his first career start, while Dawsen added 10 points, five rebounds and three steals for the No. 15 Spartans (3-1), who suffered a major blow for at least one night when high-scoring freshman Gary Harris suffered a severe left shoulder injury in the opening minute.
"Give us credit for hanging in there through some bizarre things," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "We had the injury, poor foul shooting (16-for-25) and foul trouble. Yet, somehow, we found a way to beat them."
Derrick Marks scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half before fouling out with 2:37 left for Leon Rice's Broncos (3-1), who had already beaten Texas Southern, Oakland and Louisiana in the five-team Spartan Showcase.
"We just wanted to come in and attack them," Marks said. "This shows we can play with anybody."
With former Spartans' great Magic Johnson watching, Appling had the best game of his career. He added seven assists, five rebounds and three steals while playing all 40 minutes.
"That team was well-coached and played tremendously," Dawson said. "But down the stretch, Keith and Denzel made some great plays. Keith's game has changed so much from last year. He's very mature and patient."
Michigan State tried to build on a six-point halftime lead by working the ball inside to Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne, then having them wheel to the basket or pass the ball back out for open shots, the kind of inside-out attack Izzo had wanted all season.
But a pair of Payne errors with shot selection and a sloppy pass brought Boise State back into the game. A series of moves to the basket paid off for the Broncos when the Spartans lost focus on defense and the ball on offense. When Marks hit four straight free throws after a flagrant foul on Payne and a technical on Izzo, Boise State led 59-56. A steal and layup by Marks made it a five-point game.
"I guess I'm not a very good judge of the rule," Izzo said of a pair of disputed calls for swinging elbows. "But we're going to have to start playing like Venus De Milo, with no hands and arms."
A Payne roll to the basket, Brandan Kearney's two free throws after an Appling steal and a Valentine dunk after a Dawson block and a long outlet from Appling put Michigan State ahead to stay. Appling did the rest with a sweet move in transition, a steal and slam and another three-point drive.
"One of the keys was that Derrick Marks has to be able to stay to stay in the game," Rice said. "There aren't too many guys who can make a play on them, and he's one of those guys. But when I look at this tape, I'll see that he had three preposterous fouls."
Michigan State scored the game's first points on a Valentine 3, then watched Boise State take control of the first nine minutes. It didn't help that Harris, the Big Ten's Freshman of the Week and a 16-points-per-game scorer, jammed his shoulder on a routine sideline exchange and didn't return.
"I'm not saying it was a flagrant foul, but it was a good hit," said Izzo, who still hasn't lost a November home game in 18 seasons with the Spartans. "The best-case scenario is he sprained it and is out a couple of weeks. The worst case is that there's more and he's out a lot-lot-lot-lot-lot-lot-lot longer."
Boise State fell to 0-6 against Big Ten opponents and 5-34 against ranked teams, despite giving Michigan State a scare and plenty to work on before Friday night's game with Oakland. It was the Broncos' second four-point loss in East Lansing in less than three months. The Spartans prevailed 17-13 in football in late August.