Maybe Tom Izzo should sit Adreian Payne until the second half of every game.
Payne, a junior, scored a career-high 20 points Wednesday night in the Michigan State Spartans' 81-72 road win over the Penn State Nittany Lions.
And those points couldn't have come any sooner as the Spartans clung tightly to a 29-25 lead at halftime.
Izzo, who gained his 200th career Big Ten victory, benched Payne until approximately the 16-minute mark of the second half because of Payne's role in a scuffle with sophomore Branden Dawson (also benched) earlier Wednesday at the team's hotel at Penn State.
Because of the disciplinary action from Izzo, Payne said he "felt like a dog let out of its cage," citing his desire to "get back on the floor" and "apologize" to his team by willing it to a much-needed road conquest.
Kidding aside, something just clicked with Payne. Sure, part of his increased level of energy was due to his stint on the bench.
The incident provided an opportunity for Payne to "grow and learn."
But there has to be more than that.
Payne is approaching his apex, and his timing was impeccable. Without him, the 18th-ranked Spartans (15-3, 4-1) would have likely stumbled to their second Big Ten loss.
Obviously, Izzo should never keep the junior forward out of the mix unless absolutely necessary. However, one thing was evident while the Spartans pieced together a win at the Bryce Jordan Center: Payne is now on a mission, and his team will go as he goes.
His 20 points in 17 minutes were incredibly valuable. But his seven rebounds and 7-of-10 shooting, including a successful three-point attempt, were much more important Wednesday night. His accuracy sparked confidence, and the three-pointer was his second of the season.
Payne's game is developing. His skill set, of course, isn't without flaws. He's a slow starter at times— and he suffers lapses of relatively ineffective play during other moments—but he's shown the ability to come through during crucial junctures.
Michigan State ran into a surprisingly agile and motivated Iowa Hawkeyes team Jan. 10. Instead of blowing out the Hawkeyes, the Spartans barely escaped Iowa City with a 62-59 advantage.
That near-loss was an eye-opener for Michigan State. Payne answered the call by shooting 5-of-7 and scoring 10 points, grabbing six rebounds and blocking a shot.
Free throws from Keith Appling and Gary Harris secured the win, but the Spartans are a much better team overall when Payne shoots consistently and uses his size to disrupt opposing offenses.
While facing the Nebraska Cornhuskers this past Sunday, Payne shot 6-of-6 from the floor, finishing with 14 points, three rebounds and a block in the 66-56 win.
Again, another timely effort before things really get interesting for Izzo's crew. The Big Ten schedule is a gauntlet that will claim its share of victims this year, and there's no better time than now for Payne— and his teammates—to unleash whatever domesticated beast that they may have inside them prior to clamoring with the league's best.
The Spartans will be lucky to get out of the melee with less than four losses, an identical best-case scenario for other league front runners like the Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Gophers, Illinois Illini and Indiana Hoosiers.
If Payne's dog is on the loose, the Spartans should feel comfortable when analyzing their chances.
Follow Bleacher Report's Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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