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February 6, 2013EAST LANSING - Michigan State is banged up, and it keeps getting worse for the 12th-ranked Spartans. At least they're winning while they pile up the injuries.
Gary Harris scored 15 points while playing through a back ailment and Keith Appling added 14 points before leaving with an injury, leading Michigan State to a 61-50 victory over No. 18 Minnesota on Wednesday night.
Harris played after being knocked out of the previous game with back spasms and was limited in practice early in the week.
''Gary hit a couple big shots, the guy has ice in his veins and is tougher than nails,'' Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. ''He could barely go. It was one of the guttier performances in my career.
"I just kept asking him if he could go, and thank God he never told me no because I don't know what I would've done at that point," Izzo added. "That kid showed me some character and some heart."
Said Harris: "I didn't want to come out because I knew if I came out, it was going to get worse. It was going to get locked up and it was going to get tight. I just wanted to stay on the court as much as possible and keep it as loose as possible."
Appling left the court with 1:17 left, holding his right shoulder after getting tied up with Joe Coleman. He returned to the bench in the final minute, but couldn't play because of his shoulder injury.
''It popped out, then went right back in,'' Appling said.
Appling said he should be fine to practice on Thursday and play Saturday at Purdue (7 p.m.).
Appling feeling good after shoulder scare:
The Spartans lack depth in the backcourt because Travis Trice, Appling's backup at the point and a key reserve wing guard, hasn't been cleared after following a head injury last week and Brandan Kearney transferred to Arizona State.
Sources indicate that Trice is doubtful for the Purdue game and questionable for the Michigan game at this point.
The Spartans' frontcourt took a hit when Adreian Payne
got elbowed in the face, and left the court with a bloody nose for part of the second half, while Branden Dawson was slowed by a sprained right ankle.
Izzo usually prefers to fastbreak at every turn, and crash the offensive boards with four. But MSU has scaled back its offensive rebounding aggressiveness. "We've had to keep two guards back," Izzo said. ''I might have to play a little different with three games in six days."
The Spartans (19-4 8-2 Big Ten) moved into a second-place tie with No. 3 Michigan, which visits East Lansing on Tuesday night. MSU picked up its eighth win in nine games since losing the conference opener against the Golden Gophers on the road.
Minnesota (17-6, 5-5), meanwhile, has lost five of its last seven games.
''We still believe,'' Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe said. ''We've got five losses, but we still are going to win - and win out.''
Harris has never played through so much pain:
Michigan State took control of the rematch with a 21-4 run in the second half, taking a 41-29 lead - after trailing by 5 early in the second half.
The Gophers didn't have a scorer in double figures until Austin Hollins' 3-pointer with 3:38 left got them within five. Hollins finished with 11 points. Coleman was one of his three teammates with nine points.
Minnesota's three-guard lineup combined to make just 10 of 34 shots. Appling and Harris made almost half of their 21 attempts.
The Spartans pulled away late in the game with some shots and stops.
"They are at their best in getting the ball inside and getting it to the basket," said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith. "We were doing a good job in the first half. Then in the second half we started giving the ball away, whether it was bad shots or bad decisions or turnovers.
"Again, it goes back to Michigan State's good defense. That was the difference. They picked it up and became a little more physical and we didn't respond the proper way."
Appling made a layup, Payne connected on two free throws and Harris had a three-point play to put them ahead by 11 points with 1:35 to go. Payne blocked a shot and Derrick Nix had a steal during the key stretch.
A fired-up crowd got quiet when Appling left the game in another potential setback for a short-handed team and roared when he jogged back to the bench with 40 seconds left.
''I'm hoping and thinking that it might've popped in so quickly it didn't hurt stretch anything,'' Izzo said.
Smith said Harris, who made 5 of 11 shots, including four 3-pointers, took advantage of poor defense.
''We found a way to leave him open most of the night,'' Smith said. ''He was on target and was feeling it, obviously, especially stepping up without Trice. He shot us out of the zone every time we tried to go to it. He played extremely well and had a good all-around game and played a lot of minutes.''
The Spartans made 9 of 18 3-pointers yet connected on fewer than 44 percent of their shots overall.
''It's a good thing we were knocking down 3s,'' Harris said. ''We couldn't take a loss at home.''
Nix and Payne, both of whom are averaging nine-plus points, were scoreless in an ugly first half.
Nix made the opening shot of the second half, tying it at 20 after each team struggled to shoot in the first half.
The Spartans have beaten Minnesota in 13 of the past 15 games overall and 14 straight at the Breslin Center, where they're undefeated this season. That mark will be tested next week against the rival Wolverines and the following week against top-ranked Indiana.
"I don't even know what to say. I felt like we just beat a very good basketball team. I don't think they played great and I don't think we played great. I'm kind of speechless.
"I don't know why we came out like we did. We are extremely beat up right now. Dawson came out in the second half and Payne is out, we thought he might have broken his nose. Keith popped his shoulder and you probably saw Gary limping the entire game.
"In the second half we went to Nix and he made some plays with his passes.
"We didn't communicate well or guard the people we were supposed to guard. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised since we were depleted to start with. I am proud that we found a way to win and grinded it out. We beat a good team who probably feels a little like us."
On first half offensive struggles, despite not having a turnover in the first half:
"It is very difficult to find a silver lining in a cloud and that (only five turnovers for the game) is probably why we won the game. Zeros turnovers in the first half; I don't think that has ever happened since I've been here. I think the five for the game is lowest in my entire career, and that was one of the keys since they score so well off turnovers.
"Six and half minutes into the second half we only had one turnover and we had scored 18 or 19 points, which was more than we scored in the first half."
On Gary Harris playing through injury:
"He couldn't even run, his back was hurting him so much. Normally, I would take a kid out who is hurting but it was a muscle and not skeletal, so it's just a matter of whether or not you can deal with the pain. I'll tell you something; that kid showed me some character and some heart. That was a way more heroic effort than it looked because he was dragging his whole body."
On being outrebounded 38-28 by Minnesota: "It is a major concern for me. They are one of the best rebounding teams in the conference. I think Tubby (Smith) does an incredible job because they are tough and strong.
"When BJ (Branden Dawson) isn't playing and with Derrick (Nix) having to play too many minutes because of the way things are, we aren't rebounding the ball very well.
"If Gary (Harris) gets a rebound, it is because it falls to him and I don't really want him to right now. This is a strange team for me to coach because of the way we are and the way we always have played. We aren't doing a very good job on the boards, and I know most people would like to be plus on the boards, and I'm used to being plus 10 and leading the nation and were plus three and leading nobody."
On getting a win despite a tough first half:
"I am way more on the frustration side because we had some effort-related (problems) again. We practice harder than we play. If you ask me, Minnesota is a very good team and they just missed some open shots.
"Dawson struggled early. I think if there was a bright spot I think Valentine played a lot better. We got a little mixed up defensively at times, but he played a lot better.
"Payne in the second half, when he started playing in the post and getting that jump hook, and then when Nix started going down low, we did some better things.
"Keith struggled in the first half, but it wasn't an effort-related thing. He was just really tired and not pushing the ball and starting the offense too far out. We might have to play a little different here coming up with three games in six days and we have to figure it out. I'm proud of the way we came back but I'm disappointed that a good team should have to get to that point, because you are going to run out of those situations if you don't start to take care of business earlier."