North Carolina Tar Heels: Keith Appling

Big Ten, ACC deadlocked once again

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
1:16
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The 15th annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge ended with no resolution to conference supremacy. For the second straight season the clash ended in a 6-6 tie, leaving the ACC with a 10-3-2 advantage.

We know which teams really won the night though: North Carolina, for sure, with its upset over No. 1 Michigan State. No. 8 Wisconsin, which like the Tar Heels won on the road, beating Virginia. And No. 5 Ohio State, which is on a steady ascent up the polls.

On the surface the Buckeyes' win doesn't look that big, as they had unranked Maryland at home. But the way they controlled the game from start to finish and gave the Terrapins a harsh introduction to the league they'll join next year.

Defensively, Ohio State dissected everything the Terps wanted to do. Maryland shot just 39 percent from the field and gave up 25 points off 14 turnovers. That included the final sequence of the first half, when Aaron Craft dove to the floor for a steal and passed ahead to Sam Thompson for a buzzer-beating basket.

[+] EnlargeSam Thompson
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesSam Thompson's highlight-reel dunks capped off a dominating night for No. 5 Ohio State.
The Buckeyes basically beat the Terps like a ranked team should at home. They never let the lead dip below 10 the entire second half and once up 25 turned the game into one long highlight reel for Thompson.

Columbus discovered the alley-oop Wednesday night as Thompson slammed down lobs on four different occasions.

And those shooting woes that threatened to drag down OSU seem to be a thing of the past too. The Buckeyes shot 52 percent from the field, powered by LaQuinton Ross' 7-of-13 performance. Ross finished with a game-high 20 points.

Ohio State honored former coach Gary Williams prior to the game. Williams coached the Buckeyes from 1986-89 before leaving Columbus for College Park, where he would win the 2002 national title at Maryland. Williams then had to sit through the Terps being handled by the Buckeyes.

Chris Collins also returned to familiar territory, as the Northwestern coach returned to ACC country for the first time since taking the Wildcats job in the offseason. Collins, who played for Duke and also spent 13 years as an assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski, knows Northwestern's opponent Wednesday, NC State, well. But his intimate knowledge didn’t help the Wildcats muster a win.

Collins’ welcome-back package included a technical foul and 22 points from T.J. Warren, as the Wolfpack cruised to a 69-48 win.

Purdue matched NC State for the biggest margin of victory in the challenge with its 88-67 victory over Boston College. The Boilermakers, led by a season-high 18 points from Terone Johnson, have quietly won five straight in the challenge.

Nebraska salvaged the night for the Big Ten by beating Miami 60-49 in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers held the Canes to a frigid 24 percent shooting performance in the first half en route to a season-low 13 points at the break.

Michigan State didn’t hit new lows against the Tar Heels, it simply didn’t hit back at all.

Most expected Northwestern, Boston College and Miami to have a hard time winning on the road. No one expected the Spartans to lack the fight generally accepted as the norm from Tom Izzo’s team. Even though they bounced back from a 12-point deficit in the first half to tie the game at intermission, they never seemed to bring the fight to the Tar Heels.

MSU’s punchless night could be summed up in one second-half exchange. Branden Dawson seemingly had a clear path to the rim and was poised to give Sparty its first lead of the game, breaking a 38-38 tie. But J.P. Tokoto rotated in time to block the shot and start a fast break that ended with Marcus Paige completing a three-point play.

Carolina never trailed afterward and Michigan State literally hobbled through the rest of the game.

Senior forward Adreian Payne kept cramping up, at one point during the middle of a play, he literally stood on one leg while grabbing his other foot behind him to stretch. Gary Harris, who sat out Michigan State's win over Mount St. Mary’s with an ankle injury, seemed to lack some of his explosiveness. Keith Appling suffered an apparent hip injury late in the first half and shot 5-of-15 from the field.

Virginia joined Michigan State as a big loser from Wednesday night. The Cavs have made quite the acquaintance with the NCAA bubble and missed possibly their last chance for a statement win before conference play begins.

Both of the Cavaliers' losses have come at home to ranked teams, and the common thread is that they haven’t mustered much offense either time.

UVA, which lost to VCU 59-56 on a last-second shot, scored its lowest point total in 20 years against Wisconsin. The Cavs managed only 18 points in the second half, and their total of 38 was the lowest output since losing to UConn 77-36 in 1993.

So while the challenge ended in a tie, the winners and losers Wednesday were clearly defined.

Michigan State wins boards, but not game

November, 12, 2011
11/12/11
12:20
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SAN DIEGO -- After an event aboard the USS Carl Vinson that will be a lifetime memory, the Michigan State basketball team found that its identity mirrored in some small way the servicemen and women it entertained Friday night.

The Spartans will have to be tough and rugged and able to adjust on the fly if they are going to be a success this season.

"We played hard, we made the hustle plays," said an emotionally drained Tom Izzo. "We can be better offensively."

The Spartans lost to top-ranked North Carolina 67-55, despite outrebounding the Tar Heels by 15. MSU dealt with multiple players in foul trouble and a woeful 30.6 shooting percentage as a slight breeze blew across the deck. The weather couldn't mask a 2-for-20 effort from behind the 3-point arc, though.

Austin Thornton was a brutal 0-for-7 from the field, while freshman Travis Trice began his career 1-for-8. But Michigan State's Keith Appling said the wind wasn't an excuse he or teammates were willing to give.

[+] EnlargeBranden Dawson
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireBranden Dawson suffered a scare in the first half, but was able to return for the Spartans.
The Spartans got off to decent start in the first few minutes when they were controlling the offensive backboard. But that was before the Tar Heels started to click and run past MSU.

The Spartans weren't helped by a first-half injury to freshman forward Branden Dawson, who tweaked his right knee on a center-court logo. Izzo said at halftime and again after the game that the decals are a detriment to players and a serious concern for coaches and players. Dawson said he was a bit nervous after he went down.

He worked on his knee behind the basket, doing slide drills to loosen it up. It worked, as he ended up playing all but five minutes. But he wasn't as effective in the second half, scoring only 4 points and grabbing two of his seven rebounds after the break.

Dawson had ice on his knee after the game, but didn't appear to be having any issues. He will have to be a major factor for the Spartans, helping Draymond Green as well as Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix inside. The Spartans are already down one forward with Delvon Roe having to give up the sport due to injury.

"Coach Izzo told me I have to keep going to the glass," Dawson said. "We know that's what we have to do."

Green was down on himself for his play (6-of-19 from the field), but he did finish with 18 boards.

"We outrebounded them by 15 so you can see that we can be the old Michigan State," Green said. "We have to shoot the ball better, but we can win a lot of games rebounding like that."

The Spartans play Duke on Tuesday night at the Champions Classic in New York City. The Blue Devils have their tallest team in years, giving MSU another challenge inside.

But the Spartans love every minute of this. Izzo said he wouldn't have it any other way, playing the No. 1 Heels in Friday's spectacular and moving environment and then going across the country to play Duke on what could be coach Mike Krzyzewski's clinching victory to own the all-time win record.

"I do this because I'm selfish," Izzo said. "I want to be at these games. We're still building our program. We got something out of this. We competed. There was a different look in our players' eyes. There were no issues, none with the weather. It was just great."
SAN DIEGO -- They are asked about the sight lines and the wind variables, what it will be like to play in front of President Obama and what it means to play for the nation’s military.

They’re asked about everything, that is, except the game.

And therein lies the rub.

The spectacle of the Carrier Classic is enormous, an outdoor basketball game subjected to the elements, played atop an historic aircraft carrier in front of the commander-in-chief.

At the end of the day, though, this is still a basketball game between No. 1 North Carolina and Michigan State (ESPN, 7 ET).

And it counts.

“There is definitely a lot going on,’’ Michigan State guard Keith Appling admitted. “You have to try to keep it in perspective and focus, but it’s hard.’’

[+] EnlargeUNC Practice
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireThe UNC and MSU players are prepared for a once-in-a-lifetime experience on Friday.
The reality is, college basketball operates differently than college football. One loss on Nov. 11 does not destroy a team for March 11.

Or as UNC coach Roy Williams put it, “It’s a big game but it’s one game and as long as we’re better on Dec. 11 and Jan. 11, we’re OK.’’

But these are two teams that come to the USS Carl Vinson on disparate but equally critical paths.

North Carolina, the nearly unanimous No. 1 team in the preseason, will try to prove itself worthy of expectations. A season ago, the Tar Heels started in the top 10, fell apart and regrouped over the final two months. Their dash to the Elite Eight, coupled with the return of Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller put the bull's-eye squarely on the back of a team and a program accustomed to being a target.

The Heels were allowed to grow into themselves last season, to survive early mistakes for late successes. They won’t have that luxury this season, not with all this scrutiny.

“We’re a team that’s going to face adversity -- and right now, that’s everyone expecting us to win every game,’’ sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall said. “That’s our goal. We’d love to do that, but we also know how hard that is to do. Right now we just have to concentrate on being ourselves and playing our game.’’

Meantime, no one knows quite what to make of Michigan State, Tom Izzo included.

He raised his hand giddily when his team was asked to play in the Carrier Classic and raised it again when the Spartans were asked to be one of four teams invited to the Champions Classic.

In real terms, that means Michigan State will open its season aboard an aircraft carrier in San Diego against No. 1 North Carolina and play its second game four days later in New York against No. 6 Duke.

“Completely insane? Yeah, that works. Insane. Four-letter word in front of it, call me whatever you want,’’ Izzo said.

“Coach Izzo always promises that we’ll play a tough schedule,’’ senior forward Draymond Green said. “That’s one of the reasons I came to Michigan State. And you can tell, he’s a man of his word.’’

But the question: Has Izzo bit off more than he can chew with this team and this schedule? Like North Carolina, Michigan State started last season with big expectations, ranked second in the preseason behind only Duke.

Unlike the Tar Heels, the Spartans free-fell and never recovered. They finished 19-15 and 9-9 in the Big Ten, losing to UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Green and Appling are the only two players to average 20 minutes per game from that team and return this year. Seven guys on the roster have yet to play a single minute for the Spartans.

“I really have no idea what we’ll see,’’ Izzo said. “And they know exactly what they have, so that’s the hard part for me. We’ve been very good in practice and this group is really together. I like their chemistry. I just hope the best players don’t win, because they have the best players.’’

Izzo knows what he’s concerned most about -- what every opponent that faces Carolina is concerned about: transition offense. The Spartans might be the loosest offense in the Big Ten, but they are no match for the Tar Heels in the open floor.

Michigan State has to try and get into the halfcourt and then rely on its bread and butter -- rebounding. The Spartans led the nation in rebounding in 2009 and 2010, back-to-back Final Four years.

Last season, they were 48th in the nation ... and out in the first round.

“We have to hit the boards hard,’’ Izzo said. “But we could have some funny shots here with some instant offense off the rebounds.’’

So maybe it is all about the sight lines.
Editor's Note: For Dana O'Neil's game preview, click here. Also, check out a historic photo gallery of basketball being played on aircraft carriers for decades, including a WWII-era shot of a future President.

SAN DIEGO -- A number of sailors, some on and some off duty, milled around the court atop the USS Carl Vinson on Thursday, giddy about getting to watch North Carolina-Michigan State in an unprecedented event Friday.

The sailors, like everyone else involved in this game -- from the president to the Secretary of the Navy to the captain of the ship to every member of the military on board -- will still actually get the chance, regardless of the weather. The threat of rain is diminishing for Friday night, which is a huge relief to those who fretted over what was a more foreboding forecast a couple days ago.

The conditions were so perfect Thursday evening that Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said during the team’s shootaround, “We’re playing here. It will be this nice. It’s beautiful.’’

The decision to play the game on the deck, as originally planned, was actually made Wednesday morning, according to the game’s initial innovator, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis. Hollis said a half-set was put together in the hangar below deck. And it was a disaster.

[+] EnlargeUSS Carl Vinson
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireCrews stopped construction on the court in the indoor hangar bay after the area was ruled out. The plan is to go forward above deck.
If the game had been moved below deck, it would have had a totally different feel. Seating was only good for 2,500, rather than 7,000. Hollis said the Navy would have had to set up viewing stations around the ship with televisions. It simply wouldn't have been the same.

“It was like a small junior high gymnasium down there,’’ Hollis said. “No one wanted it to happen.’’

Not the coaches. Not the players. Not the military personnel. No one.

“I had a few of the troops say that if this game isn’t outside, they won’t see it,’’ North Carolina sophomore Harrison Barnes said.

Hollis said there is a rain contingency plan -- simply a rain delay. A number of servicemen from a nearby base volunteered throughout the week, setting up the court and the stands. They put a tarp, just like on a baseball diamond, over the court each of the past three days. A tarp was on the court Thursday night.

“We’ll stop it if there is any kind of moisture,’’ Hollis said. “The biggest concern is the safety of the student-athletes.’’

Those student-athletes certainly don't seem concerned, though.

“This is so special to be the first outdoor college basketball game and anyone who doesn’t play for Michigan State or North Carolina can’t say they played in it,’’ Michigan State senior forward Draymond Green said. “If we went underneath, we couldn’t have said it either.

"You worry about the rain, but I grew up playing outside on the playground, and if there’s wind just shoot it off the backboard.’’

Hollis said a number of waivers had to be granted by the NCAA.

“There were a lot of operational logistics we were dealing with since we had the government, the Navy, the two institutions and the NCAA,’’ Hollis said. “The approval of the uniforms, the long sleeves, the ability to come out a day earlier than normal. There were a lot of things that [Big East coordinator of officials] Art Hyland and [NCAA coordinator of officials] John Adams had to help us get through for all the waivers. We also had to get the endorsement of [NCAA president] Mark Emmert and [NCAA vice president] Greg Shaheen.’’

The setup on the Vinson's flight deck, where normally 39 jets are stationed, ready to be deployed, is as picture-perfect as any venue in the history of the sport. The court sits on the middle of the deck, with the San Diego skyline across the water. The stands, which seat 7,000, are next to the court, with courtside seating for dignitaries that will include President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

[+] EnlargeHarrison Barnes
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill It was quite an experience when the players took the court for the first time Thursday.
At one point Thursday, sailors took turns sitting in their seats in their blue-tinted fatigues. The image was akin to an Army-Navy game.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he was filled with pride in advance of the game. His first reaction to coming on board the ship Wednesday was: “Wow. Wow. Every player had their phones and cameras out," Williams said. "No one was talking to each other. Their eyes and mouths were wide open. This is going to be a celebration.

"From the tipoff to the final horn, we’ll be working our tails off for the game. But we’ll be thinking about the smiles on the faces of the people who serve our country. We’re thrilled. It sends a cold chill for me just talking about it. It’s the neatest thing I’ve ever been involved in.’’

North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller said the last time he played outside was in middle school. He said he was a bit worried about his hook shot and sizing up the distance with the potential for wind.

The elements were on everyone’s mind, but not in a negative way.

“I like it out here,’’ North Carolina junior forward John Henson said. “I think we should get the Dean Dome to open up. I’d hate to go down low and miss this experience.’’

Barnes called the whole thing “unreal.”

“There’s no other way to say describe it," he said. "It’s so nice with the sky and the cool weather. There will be such a special aura about this game. No matter how far we go in the tournament, we’ll never see something like this. We’re showing appreciation for the troops, see how they live and this game is put in perspective.’’

Michigan State sophomore guard Keith Appling called this a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“I’m only concerned that a couple of my shots get some wind and they could far right or far left,’’ he said with a laugh. “It might be embarrassing with the president in the stands.’’

Nevertheless, this game will be outside, whether there is wind or mist. That much we know.

“Weather is not going to be a factor,’’ Green said. “It’s going to be great.’’

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