Off-court conflict, on-court win
MSU beats Penn State 81-72 after police call on minor incident between MSU players
With hours to prepare the No. 18 MSU basketball team for battle with Penn State, MSU men’s head basketball coach Tom Izzo first had to deal with a battle of a different variety.
Before the Spartans took to the floor at Bryce Jordan Arena against the Nittany Lions, the team knew they’d have to do so without sophomore guard/forward Branden Dawson and junior center Adreian Payne — at least to open the game.
Yet, Payne returned to action and surged to finish as the team’s leading scorer with 20 points as the Spartans (15-3 overall, 4-1 Big Ten) took down Penn State (8-9, 0-5), 81-72, marking Izzo’s 200th career victory in Big Ten play.
Izzo joins Indiana’s Bob Knight and Purdue’s Gene Keady as the only coaches in Big Ten history with 200 or more conference wins.
The Spartans used a balanced scoring attack and had five players finish in double figures in scoring including Payne, senior center Derrick Nix, junior guard Keith Appling, sophomore guard Travis Trice and freshman guard Gary Harris.
“It was kind of a tough day,” Izzo said.
Earlier in the day, Penn State University police responded to a call indicating Dawson and Payne were involved in a physical confrontation at the team’s campus hotel.
According to Penn State University police chief Tyrone Parham, the two players were involved in a verbal altercation that turned physical as the players exchanged punches, followed by one player shoving the other into the wall.
The duo walked away with minor cuts on their faces and were not permitted to start in Wednesday’s game against Penn State.
“Right now, I’m considering a lot of things with those two,” Izzo said. “In all honesty, I must say to our fans back there, they were wrong with what they did, but I hope nobody makes a mountain out of a molehill because it wasn’t one.”
With Dawson and Payne spending the first half next to one another on the bench, Izzo was left to piece together a lineup already crippled by the earlier season loss of Brandan Kearney.
However, the Spartans came out of the gate strong.
After shooting a dismal 1-for-11 in the last game against Nebraska, freshman guard Gary Harris opened the game with back-to-back 3-pointers, followed by triples from Appling and sophomore Russell Byrd.
Harris finished the half as MSU’s leading scorer with nine points on 3-of-5 (60 percent) shooting from the floor.
Despite the hot start, without two of their primary big men in the paint, the Spartans were forced into more jump shots and managed just a 40 percent shooting performance in the half.
A strong start by Nittany Lions’ guard Jermaine Marshall allowed the game’s beginning to remain close as MSU carried a slim 29-25 lead into halftime.
After losing the lead in the second half, the Spartans took it back on a Payne jumper at 14:06.
From there, the team went on a 19-8 run to open up a double-digit lead, which they never surrendered.
Near the end Penn State forced the issue and cut the lead down to five with less than two minutes to play. Still, the Spartans were able to knock down their free throws in the final minutes and left the building with the victory, relatively unscathed.