Finally, he came up with three words: Awful, terrible and poor.
"The list goes on," he said, "We didn't play well at all today."
Holding a lead for just 52 seconds in the 53-46 loss, Michigan State lost for the first time in back-to-back games this season – and dropped to 4-6 in its past 10.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo called it "a complete meltdown" as his team posted its lowest point total since Jan. 31, 2012 at Illinois (41).
"Maybe a slap in the face was good," he said. "Maybe it will wake us up."
Appling, who Izzo said is a "major problem" right now because of what he can't do as he comes back from a wrist injury, said he felt like the Spartans have already had their share of wake-up calls.
"I don't think we needed anymore, but we just didn't bring it," he said. "That's all it boils down to. We can't let it happen again."
The meltdown came even with the return of forward Branden Dawson – the final piece of the roster returning from an injury. The Spartans still looked out of sorts and had their turnovers (16) most since a win on Jan. 4 at Indiana, the last time Michigan State had a complete roster.
"There wasn't going to be a magic wand waved where everyone was going to be back to normal," Izzo said. "It just doesn't work that way."
After getting back Appling and senior forward Adreian Payne in recent weeks, Dawson returned after missing nine games with a broken right hand. The junior had six points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes.
"It feels almost weird because the majority of the year we played without so many guys that now that everybody is back, it's just not the same flow that we had early in the year," Appling said.
Illinois had no issue with finding its flow early on. The Illini jumped out to a 17-9 lead behind three early 3s and Michigan State turned over the ball on its six of first 10 possessions.
The Spartans fought back behind Gary Harris' 11 first-half points to even the score 28-28 at halftime.
Gavin Schilling, in his first career start, gave MSU its lone lead of the game with a dunk to open the second half, but the Spartans scored just 16 points the rest of the way.
Harris led the Spartans with 19 points, while Schilling tied a career-high seven.
The sophomore guard said the Spartans still have plenty to play for as the season winds down – and referenced a similarly tough stretch late last season.
"We went through a tough stretch when we lost three in a row last year toward the end of the season," he said. "We've been in stretches like this before. It depends on how we respond to it moving forward."
Whatever happens, the Spartans know it will have to be soon. March has arrived and there are just two regular-season Big Ten games remaining.
"It's just tough," Payne said. "We are struggling right now. Anybody that loses two games …
He tailed off … "We gotta get ourselves together."