Keith Appling finally enjoyed playing basketball again. The joy ran through the Michigan State team.
Appling was buried in a shooting slump and feeling the pain over making the pivotal turnover in the Spartans' one-point loss to Michigan on Sunday. He washed away all the hurt on Thursday, scoring a game-high 19 points as No. 10 Michigan State snapped a three-game losing streak with a 58-43 victory over No. 22 Wisconsin at Breslin Center.
The Spartans stayed alive in the race for the Big Ten regular-season title.
"Of course I realize I was smiling," said Appling, who shot 25 percent over his previous five games. "I like to smile, I'm a happy person. It was good to finally see things go right for our team and myself as well. These past couple of games have been brutal for all of us. To finally come out with a 'W,' it felt good."
Spartans coach Tom Izzo expressed a sigh of relief for not only the end of the losing streak but the disappearance of his junior point guard's frown.
"There's not too many times I feel for a guy, but I felt good for him," Izzo said. "I was excited when I saw him smile."
The Spartans' defense was also satisfying for Izzo, as his team hounded the Badgers into their worst offensive performance this season. The Badgers' point total surpassed the team's previous season low of 45, set against Minnesota in January. Wisconsin committed a season-high 17 turnovers as Michigan State racked up 16 steals, and the Badgers shot a season-low 29.4 percent. The Spartans' Travis Trice and Gary Harris combined for 10 steals.
"That's the way you've got to win in tournaments," Izzo said.
Harris overcame a scoreless first half to add 11 points, and Adreian Payne had nine points and 11 rebounds for Michigan State, which clinched a first-round bye in Big Ten tournament. The Spartans (23-7, 12-5 Big Ten) can gain a share of the conference's regular-season championship with a victory over Northwestern on Sunday and an Indiana loss to Michigan.
It won't be easy for the Spartans to root for the Wolverines.
"There's mixed emotions," Izzo said. "If one of our guys pulled for their rival, (former coach) Jud (Heathcote) would come out of his (grave). Well, he's not in it yet, but Jud would roll off his bed and abuse me."
Ben Brust's 10 points led Wisconsin, which has lost eight straight at Breslin and five overall to the Spartans. Ryan Evans added nine points and 11 rebounds for the Badgers (20-10, 11-6), who dropped out of the conference race.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan didn't view the loss as a missed opportunity.
"With this team, what they've done, I'm not trading them," he said. "These guys have been working extremely hard. The accuracy has dropped a little bit, but you don't look at missed opportunities so much now but over the whole season."
Appling broke out early in the second half to give his team a commanding lead.
After Wisconsin scored the first basket of the second half, the Spartans reeled off 16 consecutive points to make it 41-20.
Appling had 10 of those points, including two three-point plays. His first one with 14:13 left gave the Spartans a 16-point lead, and his second one finished off the run. The surge included layups by Trice and Appling after Wisconsin turnovers.
"He got to see shots go down for him early in the second half," Harris said of Appling. "The rim got bigger for him. He got into transition and started playing like he did before his little so-called slump."
Sam Dekker finally ended Wisconsin's futility with a layup, but the Badgers never recovered.
The turnovers were partially due to how the game was called, according to Ryan. His team was averaging an NCAA-low 9.45 giveaways per game.
"They were jumping into passing lanes every time we would attack," he said. "They were pretty active with their hands. I thought they were very aggressive, and if you're not getting a call or two in there, a team is just going to continue to be aggressive with their hands."
NOTES: Wisconsin's last victory in East Lansing was a 68-64 overtime triumph in March 2004. ... At least one of the teams had been ranked in 22 of the last 23 meetings. This was the eighth time in the last 12 games both schools were ranked. ... Harris' 13.3-point scoring average is third best among Spartans freshmen in the program's history, trailing only Magic Johnson (17.0) and Shawn Respert (15.8). ... Wisconsin was the fourth straight ranked opponent the Spartans had played. Michigan State is the only team in the country to have faced four consecutive ranked conference opponents. ... The Badgers have never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten during Ryan's 12 seasons as coach. ... Wisconsin's Jared Berggren had three offensive rebounds, leaving him one shy of Mike Wilkinson's school single-season record of 79, set in 2004.