It was the final home game of Keith Appling’s Michigan State career on Thursday night and through one half, his coach thought the senior guard was playing as poorly as he had all season.

So Tom Izzo challenged his entire team at halftime, Appling in particular.

“I told them to quit talking it and start walking it,” Izzo said.

That’s when Appling, virtually a non-factor offensively since returning from a wrist injury four games ago, came to life.

“In the locker room at halftime I got an earful from Coach,” Appling said. “I just wanted to respond in a positive way and kind of rub off on the rest of the team. I feel like once I picked up my intensity on the defensive end the other guys would as well and we got a lot easy baskets just in transition, just off defense.”

The result was a different Michigan State team in the second half, one that has been missing for most of the past couple of months. The Spartans scored the first nine points of the half and hardly looked back in an 86-76 victory over No. 24 Iowa.

The victory ended a two-game skid for the Spartans (23-7, 12-5 Big Ten) and clinched a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament that begins next week in Indianapolis.

Travis Trice scored 17 points to lead Michigan State while Adreian Payne, also playing his final home game, scored 14. Denzel Valentine added 13 points, nine assists and six rebounds while Gary Harris scored 12.

But the real story was Appling.

He missed three games in early February with the sore wrist and simply wasn’t himself since returning against Nebraska. That all changed in the second half Thursday.

Appling finished with 12 points, three assists and a steal. But the sign he was truly back was when he hit a pair of 3-pointers, bring the Breslin Center crowd to its feet.

“It was good to see him make those shots,” Payne said. “Especially those 3s. He’s been struggling and it’s good when you see somebody come back with a smile on their face and making shots. It was good for him and big for us.”

The two 3-pointers Appling made were the first jump shots he’s hit since returning and while he took it all in stride, the bench was going nuts along with the entire arena.

“When he made that 3, if you watched our bench, they were so happy for him,” Izzo said. “And the fans really took some ownership in him and appreciated he has been going through hell. It wasn’t three weeks out, it was the three weeks before that. I thought he hit that one and I saw people in upper deck rising. I told him, ‘Every person in this building had your back.’ ”

The fact it was Appling who sparked the team in the second half should bode well for the Spartans moving ahead. But in the first half, they would have taken anyone.

Very little defense was played as Iowa took a 41-39 lead to the locker room.

Roy Devyn Marble (Southfield-Lathrup), who scored 24 points, had 16 in the first half on 7-for-10 shooting and the Hawkeyes took advantage of nine Michigan State turnovers. Harris and Valentine each scored 10 for the Spartans but after taking a 33-27 lead on a pair of free throws from Harris with 4:20 to play in the half, Iowa outscored Michigan State 14-6 to close out the first half.

But in the second half, Appling was there to lead the charge and when he hit his first 3-pointer with 15:07 to play, it gave the Spartans a 53-45 lead and capped a 14-4 run.

Iowa (20-10, 9-8) answered with six quick points before Matt Costello hit a pair of free throws and Kenny Kaminski hit a 3-pointer to push the Michigan State lead to 58-51. Costello then hit a pair of free throws to put MSU up nine.

After Iowa cut the Michigan State lead to five, Trice scored the next eight points on a pair of 3-pointers and a running jumper in the lane as the shot clock expired to give Michigan State its biggest lead at that point, 68-55.