The start of a stealthy scoring attack is developing, and it's evident each time Keith Appling and Gary Harris run the floor alongside one another.
Appling, a junior, is expected to lead the Michigan State Spartans' offense this season. Harris, a true freshman, is expected to contribute, but he wasn't exactly thought to be one of Michigan State's top two threats.
Harris showing the ability to be a No. 1 scorer—or at least a solid second option behind Appling—is just an added bonus for coach Tom Izzo, who watched Harris (18) pair with Appling (19) for 37 points Tuesday night during the Spartans' 67-64 State Farm Champions Classic win over the seventh-ranked Kansas Jayhawks at the Georgia Dome.
If their play continues at its current level, Appling and Harris could be a constant 30-plus-point combination each night, a combination that would be elite in the Big Ten.
The key to Tuesday's victory over Kansas was the fact that the Spartans stayed close from the beginning. That sounds simple enough, but not having to overcome 16-point deficits does wonders for a team's chances to emerge with a win.
Harris Shines in 2nd Game of Frosh Season
Harris' driving layup at 13:16 in the first half gave the Spartans a 12-11 lead. This past Friday, the Spartans were down 20-4 to the UConn Huskies just minutes into their 66-62 Sears Armed Forces Classic loss in Germany.
Keeping pace counts. After thousands of miles of travel, Michigan State's energy level was a bit of a surprise. Instead of lagging after a burst of offense, Harris kept the Spartans in pursuit; he converted an assist from Denzel Valentine into a reverse layup, cutting Kansas' lead to 33-32.
Harris set up the layup by stealing the ball from Travis Releford, then passing it Valentine, a fellow freshman who in turn assisted Harris' bucket.
Another timely shot, a three-pointer from the top of the key, by Harris tied the game 49-49 with 8:20 to play in the first half.
Better shot selection was evident, too. Harris was 7-of-12 from the field, compared to 4-of-13 (1-of-5) against UConn.
Appling Is on a Tilt
Scoring 17 in the regular-season opener wasn't enough for Appling, who scored a season-high 19 Tuesday night.
His three-pointer from the top of the key gave Michigan State a 54-53 advantage before rattling off five points in the final 1:38, starting with a three-pointer that gave the Spartans a 65-61 lead and finishing with a layup that capped the 67-64 win.
Of course, there was a turnover sandwiched in between, but back-to-back buckets were big—especially the final basket in which Appling abused Kansas' Jeff Withey before converting.
Appling has the last-minute takeover ability embedded in his basketball DNA. He hit a trio of three-pointers in Michigan State's first-round 2011 March Madness loss to UCLA.