There are a few times each game where Adreian Payne shows off how good he can be.
Although sometimes lost in moments of frustration or general fatigue, there are the moments when Payne throws down a dunk or dishes a nifty pass or, more recently, fires a shot from beyond the 3-point line that reminds head coach Tom Izzo of the player he once recruited. Few feelings settle quite like watching potential be realized by the Dayton, Ohio native, a well-known athletic freak at both ends of the floor when the mood strikes.
One of these moments was essential to a major 59-56 victory for the No. 18 Spartans (16-3 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) against No. 11 Ohio State (13-4, 3-2) on Saturday at Breslin Center.
With the Spartans battling in the final minutes of a tie game against Ohio State, Payne took the ball in the post and dished it out beyond the perimeter to junior guard Keith Appling. Not seeing a shot, Appling passed the ball back in Payne’s direction, who proceeded to spin through a pair of Buckeye defenders and find a tough layup in traffic before being fouled. The ensuing free throw put the Spartans ahead by three and set the table for a win in dramatic fashion.
In the scheme of things, the play didn’t measure on the Richter scale compared to the clutch shots of Appling down the stretch. Yet, more than a single play, it shows a growing comfort by the junior center when the team needed him most.
“We needed this win at home and it just felt so good that we were able to get it,” Payne said. “Beating Ohio State at home is huge especially because it helps us move up in the rankings. …I was on my role on the team and I wanted to bring a lot of energy and play with a lot of passion.”
Coming off a 20-point performance in Wednesday’s road win over Penn State, Payne got the start against the Buckeyes over freshman guard Denzel Valentine. Of course, this was the plan against the Nittany Lions before Payne and sophomore guard/forward Branden Dawson were forced to sit out the first half after a skirmish earlier in the day at the team’s hotel.
Payne racked up 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting (83.3 percent), along with five rebounds and a steal in 32 minutes of game action against the Buckeyes. On the season, Payne averaged 9.4 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds per game, which puts him as the fifth-best statistical rebounder in the Big Ten.
Even with the heat turned up in having to guard the conference’s leading scorer Deshaun Thomas, Payne along with Dawson and senior center Derrick Nix held a respectable 34-25 edge in rebounds, including a 10-6 advantage in offensive boards. Although Thomas finished with a game-high 28 points to go along with seven rebounds, the 13-2 second-chance points advantage helped push the game in MSU’s favor.
It was a showing that earned postgame praise from Ohio State head coach Thad Matta.
“Adreian is playing as well as anybody in the country right now in terms of the past couple games,” Matta said. “You know, Deshaun got him outside and he got him inside so it’s kind of the way it was.”
Having talked earlier in the week about the type of energy Payne brought against Penn State, Izzo echoed many of the same remarks about Saturday’s showing. Other than brief moments of fatigue, Payne put forth one of his strongest showings of the season, which is impressive considering his challenge on defense.
After watching one of his big men go head-to-head with Thomas for much of the evening, Izzo said it was a testament to how well Payne has been playing and the skill he brings to the table.
“He got tired a couple of times and on plays that we worked hours on, the fatigue showed up,” Izzo said. “He was a little goofy once and a while, but that’s just normal. For the most part, for me to even think of putting Adreian on a guy like that shows how far he has come.”