Auburn Hills, MI (SportsNetwork.com) - The fifth-ranked Michigan State Spartans have had trouble this season winning convincingly against lesser competition.
The same could be said Saturday as the Spartans battled and ultimately pulled off a 67-63 win over the upset-minded Oakland Golden Grizzlies from the Palace at Auburn Hills.
Michigan State (8-1) leaned on seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne as both players put the Spartans on their backs at different points of the contest.
Appling scored 18 of his team-high 21 points in the second half, while Payne took the reigns in the first half, scoring 16 of his 20 points and grabbing seven of his 10 rebounds in the opening stanza.
Branden Dawson was the only other Spartan in double-figures with 16 points to go along with 13 rebounds.
Michigan State was without its leading scorer Gary Harris. Averaging 17.6 points per game, Harris netted 17 points in a 79-65 setback against North Carolina on Dec. 4, but a lingering ankle injury kept the sophomore guard out of action Saturday.
Duke Mondy paced all scorers with 24 points and seven steals, while Travis Bader added 18 points on 5-of-20 shooting for Oakland (2-9), which has lost two straight following a two-game winning streak.
Appling hit a jumper to open the scoring in the second and followed that with a triple to give Michigan State its first lead since the opening minutes of the first half, 35-31.
Oakland regained the lead, 41-40, after a layup from Corey Petros with 13:05 to play.
The two teams then traded baskets over the next few minutes and Mondy knocked down a trey to tie the game at 50-50 with 7:48 left in the game.
Appling then sparked an 8-0 run to gain separation from the pesky Grizzlies. He broke the tie with a 3-pointer, then plucked Bader and dished to a cutting Dawson for a layup. Appling capped the spurt with a three-point play at 5:24.
Mondy single-handedly kept Oakland within striking distance in the closing minutes, scoring 11 straight points at one point. Dawson made a layup and Mondy answered with a three-point play. Then Travis Trice countered with a triple, but Mondy's layup with 1:07 left cut the deficit to five, 63-58.
Appling converted all four of his attempts at the free-throw line in the final minute to secure the win.
"I love when a lot of pressure is put on my shoulders, and I'm forced to deliver," Appling said.
Payne's 3-pointer early in the first half staked the Spartans to a 6-3 lead. Oakland proceeded to score five straight and Bader's triple gave the Grizzlies an 8-6 advantage, a lead they would retain until the second half.
Mondy's layup just past the midway point of the period gave Oakland its largest margin of the day, 20-12, but the Spartans trimmed the deficit to 31-30 at the break.