GAME PREVIEW - Two words may be the key to Michigan State stealing a victory at Ohio State on Sunday.
The sophomore point guard, who has missed the last four games, and most of a fifth game because of concussion-like symptoms suffered from a head injury against Illinois back on Jan. 31st, saw his first real action when he provided six minutes of play in MSU's loss to Indiana.
That's good news for the No. 4/5 Spartans (22-5, 11-3 Big Ten), who take on No. 18 OSU (19-7, 9-5) at 4 p.m. (CBS) Sunday.
Good because, Trice's minutes off the bench should give junior point Keith Appling a little more in-game rest and provide the Spartans with some much-needed depth at the point guard spot.
That lack of depth came to the forefront in a grueling battle with the Hoosiers on Tuesday when Appling seemed to be out of gas for much of the game after playing the brunt of minutes in three previous outings in Trice's absence.
Appling, MSU's leading scorer at 13.8 points a game, had just six points and two assists, and went just 1-of-8 from the field while turning the ball over four times in 36 minutes of play.
"Keith Appling has never let me down as far as his energy. So if he's down a little it's probably more my fault (in terms of) playing him to death (but) we were stuck with four games in a row with Trice out,'' said MSU coach Tom Izzo, quick to defend his top point guard. "Maybe it caught up with him. But I think he'll play a little better. He'll get a little breather here and there and I think that will be very beneficial to him.''
The Indiana game was Appling's fourth game out of the last five in which he played 32 or more minutes. During Trice's absence, the 6-foot-1 Appling, who also leads the Spartans with 3.9 assists per game, averaged 35.5 minutes a game in the four games he played those 32 or more minutes a game.
"I feel like if I would've played better and with a little more energy that that would have given us a better opportunity to win but it's something I can't dwell on because we have another Top 15 team coming up, so it's about getting prepared for now,'' Appling said.
Of course, it could be argued that 35 minutes a game for a premier Big Ten point guard shouldn't be a problem but when you consider how much Appling invests on the defensive side of the ball in addition to his recent responsibilities as a captain, you could argue back that he is naturally wearing down some at this late juncture of a regular season schedule, considering the circumstances.
"I wouldn't say I was tired man, that would be a cop out for me to say that about myself,'' Appling said. "I just look at that as an excuse. I just didn't bring it the way I should have (against Indiana), and I can't let that happen again.''
Whether you believe him or not, it looks like MSU will benefit as a whole with Trice being available to spell his teammate for upwards of 10 minutes a game for the remaining stretch of a Big Ten slate that will see MSU face two more tough opponents in Michigan and Wisconsin before ending the regular season with Northwestern.
"That's (going) to help a lot,'' Appling said. "For Travis to come in and get me a rest for a couple of minutes and let me buy some time, that's going to be great. I still don't like leaving the game but at the same time, you've got to be smart about it. To play every minute of every game is not possible, so it's always good to have some kind of relief period.''
That being said, MSU enters its showdown with Ohio State with a 66-54 all-time mark over the Bucks, who have gone 6-1 at home this season but are facing a Spartan team that is 5-2 on the road in the Big Ten.
Ohio State leads the series in Columbus 35-23 with the last three meetings between the two schools being decided by four points or less.
Since their inaugural 2012-13 meeting, where then-No. 18 MSU squeezed out a 59-56 victory over a No. 11 OSU at the time, the Spartans have vaulted into Top 5 status with six wins in eight games, while the Buckeyes have gone 6-3, with one of those setbacks being a surprising blowout loss at Wisconsin on Feb. 17th.
MSU's only losses during that stretch have come against Indiana, a team poised to win the Big Ten title and eventually end up in the Final Four.
So while the Spartans, who are still in the throes of a Big Ten title chase, sitting just a game behind the Hoosiers and a game ahead of the Badgers in the standings will be looking to keep pace, the Buckeyes will be trying to edge back into the conference title equation, by earning their 20th overall win and 10th victory in conference play.
In order to do that, OSU will be depending heavily on the player that has carried them all season long, versatile 6-foot-7 junior forward Deshaun Thomas.
Thomas, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, at 20.1 and six, respectively, is an inside-outside threat who can be a matchup nightmare for teams because of his size, skill, length and quickness.
"He's a great player and if he gets hot he gets going. We have to contain him but if he can get 40 and we can win, I'm cool with that. I really am,'' Izzo said. "He got a lot of points (in the first game) and we held the rest of them down. I would like to do a better job on him but he is a great player.''
While Thomas is the Buckeyes only double-figure scorer leading into Sunday's showdown but that doesn't mean OSU doesn't have enough capable weapons to give the Spartans fits.
Junior guards Lenzelle Smith and Aaron Craft add 9.9 and 9.2 points, respectively, with Smith being the team's second-leading rebounder at five a game, while Craft is the top assist man at 4.3 a game.
Craft also leads the Buckeyes in steals at two per game.
In order to neutralize that trio's production and beat the Buckeyes for a second straight season in Columbus, which would boost MSU's win total to nine in the last 16 meetings, the Spartans are going to have to do much of the same things they were able to do in defeating OSU at Breslin back on Jan. 19th.
The Spartans will also have to contend with the abilities of two more players who weren't as prominent in the first meeting.
"I think (sophomore guard) Shannon Scott and (sophomore forward LaQuinton) Ross are both playing a little bit more minutes but a lot more in the flow of their offense,'' Izzo said. "Before, they were just two guys that were around. Now, they're two guys that are getting more done.
"Ross is a very talented kid offensively and they are getting him more involved. I think both of them have been more involved in their offense since the last time we played them. They're more balanced since the last time we played them.''
In that first game, MSU got strong performances from Appling (15 points) and junior forward Adreian Payne (14 points) with some solid supporting cast contributions from Branden Dawson, Derrick Nix and Gary Harris as MSU turned the ball over just 13 times and outrebounded the Buckeyes 34-25, while shooting 44 percent from the field.
Those solid performances back on Jan. 19th probably won't be enough on Sunday, especially since the eight points scored by both Nix and Dawson against Indiana weren't enough on Tuesday.
So look for Dawson, who pulled down a team-leading and game-high 10 boards in the first meeting, to be more aggressive offensively, while Nix should provide more punch down low against a Buckeye team not known for its strong center play.
"In the game, against Indiana, with my performance and knowing myself, I can do much better,'' Dawson said. "I have to pick it up so that we can get back on that roll that we were (on). I have to get back to do the little things that I know how to do. Rebounding, and cutting and slashing (on offense). And running the floor. I have to show more energy getting up and down the floor.''
Harris enters Sunday as MSU second-leading scorer at 13.2 points a game, while Dawson is third at 10.5, with Payne being the team's leading rebounder at 9.8 a game.
...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now for a FREE Trial