By game’s end, everyone in the Spokane Arena had felt the Payne, none more than the Delaware coaches and players.
“Probably the best big man I’ve seen in 21 years of coaching basketball,” Delaware coach Monté Ross said after Michigan State forward Adreian Payne scored 41 points in the Spartans’ 93-78 win Thursday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Inside, outside and especially at the free-throw line, Payne played a near-perfect game to carry MSU into a third-round game Saturday against Harvard: 10 for 15 from the field, including 4 for 5 from 3-point range, and 17 for 17 from the line.
“Was he in another zone?” Spartans coach Tim Izzo asked, rephrasing a reporter’s question after the game.
“He wasn’t even in the ozone – he was in Pluto and beyond,” Izzo said.
Payne, a projected first-round NBA draft pick this year, also stayed grounded in the paint: His game-high eight rebounds helped the Spartans to a 42-24 margin on the boards.
“When you’re scoring like that and your game’s coming so easy to you … it feels like you can’t be stopped,” said the 6-foot-9 Payne, who was stopped in his tracks for seven games in midseason with a sprained right foot.
Back since early February, Payne hit his stride against Delaware. With Payne on the court, there was no gaining ground on the Spartans; in the first half, with Payne in the lineup for 14 minutes, MSU outscored the Blue Hens 35-19; with Payne on the bench, it was Delaware with a 16-9 advantage.
But there was no quit in the Blue Hens. After Payne hit his fourth 3-pointer late in the half to give MSU a 36-18 lead, he hit the bench; then Delaware took over with a 13-2 run to close within 11 points at halftime.
“It was about us sticking together and sticking true to what we do best,” Ross said.
That means an up-tempo offense and lots of 3’s; the Blue Hens opened the half with a pair of treys to cut the gap to 44-39, but Payne stayed hot and the Spartans continued their dominance on the boards against the Blue Hens’ four-guard lineup.
Barely five minutes later, MSU sixth man Travis Trice highlighted a 19-point effort with a 3-pointer from the corner that gave the Spartans a 58-46 lead.
At that point, Delaware was out of its depth. Four starters wound up playing at least 34 minutes, while 10 Spartans logged at least 7 minutes and only guard Keith Appling played more than 30.