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How sweet is it for the Spartans to beat the Billikens

On the first possession of the game, Michigan State’s Keith Appling dribbled down the floor and set up the Spartans’ offense. The St. Louis defender dropped back and stood about 10 feet away from Appling, and about six feet inside the 3-point line.

The Billikens wanted him to shoot the ball and they were daring him to do it. Appling, after all, had struggled to find his 3-point shot for a while. He was just six of his past 43 (also 3 of 21 and 5 of 36).

The defense never phased him. He didn’t let it get to his head and to impact his game. He stayed within himself and played smart — avoiding the bait.

So with 2:01 seconds left, the Spartans came out of a timeout winning 55-51. Draymond Green wound up the with ball at the top of the 3-point line, drove around his defender and as he got near the hoop, he threw it across to the far corner where Appling was wide open.

He still wasn’t phased. The sophomore point guard set his feet and took the shot. It hit the front of the rim, rolled around and up off the backboard, bounced off the rim two more times and fell through the hoop. 58-51 Spartans lead and it put just enough distance between themselves and St. Louis — and it gave them enough to win 65-61 and head to Phoenix for the Sweet Sixteen.

“(Appling) will be ready for it if somebody else wants to try it,” Tom Izzo said of Appling and sagging defenses.

Including his big 3-pointer, Appling racked up 19 points — 15 in the second half — and shot 50 percent from the field to lead MSU to its fourth Sweet Sixteen in five seasons.

Draymond Green, as he so often does, took matters into his own hands and it led to Appling’s 3-pointer. On the previous MSU possession, Green hit a tough jumper and followed it up with a block and the rebound at the other end after St. Louis pulled within two.

Green had 16 points and 13 rebounds to record his 21st double-double of the season.

“I think he’s the best player in the country,” St. Louis coach Rick Majerus said. “If I had to take a kid right now to win the national championship, I’d take Draymond Green.”

Brandon Wood kept MSU in it early, hitting his first four shots and finishing with 10 points. Derrick Nix matched Wood with 10 points, hitting 4 of 5 from the field.