Clearly, Adreian Payne has been listening to all the chatter about him never having been to the Final Four.
The senior forward, one of many Spartans to deal with injury issues this season, turned in a career-high 41 points in the second round of the NCAA tournament, leading Michigan State to a 93-78 win over Delaware. Payne was good from the floor (10-of-15) and perfect at the line (17-of-17), and did work on the boards, too, grabbing eight rebounds.
The fourth-seeded Spartans (27-8) held off a late push from the 13th-seeded Blue Hens (25-10) as Delaware used a barrage of free throws to cut the lead to 10 with 2:35 to play. The Blue Hens got 21 points from Devon Saddler and 20 points from Davon Usher, but it wasn’t enough as Michigan State shot 53.6 percent from the field. In what has long been a Michigan State staple, the Spartans also outrebounded their opponent, collecting 42 rebounds to Delaware’s 24.
But the night belonged to Payne, who used a variety of moves inside and precision from long-distance (4-of-5) to tally a career best. He physically dominated at both ends, holding Delaware big man Carl Baptiste to just six points. He scored 17 of Michigan State’s final 20 points of the first half, giving the Spartans a 44-33 lead at the break. At one point he went on a 12-0 run by himself, upping the Spartans’ lead to 36-18, a deficit from which Delaware could never fully recover.
Payne and point guard Keith Appling, the core of this group, have never been to college basketball’s promised land, and if they leave this season without a trip to Dallas they will be the first four-year players in Tom Izzo’s tenure to never get that far.
If Payne, the 6-foot-10, 240-pounder plays the rest of the tournament like he did on Thursday, the Spartans are almost certainly due for a deep run.
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