If Michigan State was hoping for a dominant, “there’s the old Adreian” type of performance Thursday night, well, it was most likely disappointed.
However, if the No. 9-ranked Spartans (20-3, 9-1) sought a solid “debut” from Adreian Payne against Penn State, they were most likely thrilled.
Slightly hobbling and maybe a little slower—but still aggressive and spry at times—Payne bounced back from the sprained right foot that’s sidelined him for nearly a month with 12 points and three boards during his team’s 82-67 victory over the Nittany Lions (12-11, 3-7).
The All-American-caliber senior, without question, is the Spartans’ heartbeat in the paint. Without him, rebounds are hard to come by—and so are second-chance scoring opportunities. In order for Tom Izzo to yet again win the Big Ten, roll through March and hit the Final Four, Payne has to be in top-notch condition.
Again, sprained right feet can be finicky—some take six to eight weeks to mend, while others, per MedLine, take up to six to eight months.
Consider Payne’s run against Penn State as a sign of things to come. As he continues healing, Izzo keeps winning—well, that’s the idea.
This may be stating the obvious, but a healthy-ish Payne makes Michigan State better.
Kenny Kaminski has popped out of thin air with must-see shooting performances.
With 15 points in Game 1 without Payne, he helped the Spartans edge Minnesota in overtime in early January.
But then he was a virtual no-show for a stretch…go figure. He had it all in front of him, but due to the wrinkles Payne’s absence caused, his fast track became a slow track.
Something happened Thursday—Payne came back, and somehow Kaminski relocated his stroke, scoring a game-high 19 points, including shooting 5-of-6 shooting from long range.
Was it convenient timing on Kaminski’s part? Or was there something more.
It seemed as if Kaminski was just heating up prior to Payne's departure. His recent stretch of games certainly reflects a connection between Payne's presence and his scoring.
It helps to have a rebounder who can kick out the ball to open shooters and create scoring opportunities for others at the rim.
|Kenny's Hot Streak Was Put on Hold|
|MINN (W) Game 1 w/o Payne||15||5-7||5-7||1|
|PSU (W) Game 1 w/ Payne||19||5-6||7-9||2|
|ESPN player profile|
Kaminski's hot-handedness will be required in March. He needs more time to really hit his stride, so Payne's arrival couldn't have come at a better time. The Big Ten season has crossed the midpoint. It's time to prepare for the second season.
Stronger On Glass
The Spartans' resounding 42-30 win in rebounds was a welcome sign. After all, they're not shooting free throws very well, so getting boards and converting second-chance points combats that deficiency.
Not a classic Izzo team just yet, Michigan State showed resiliency in the paint and on the glass, an area in which it's been pushed around since Payne took a seat. Having a 6'10," 245-pound pillar of stability certainly smooths the road to March.
Although Payne wasn't the team leader, grabbing just three rebounds Thursday, he helped set the tone for others to tie the loose ends—Denzel Valentine had 11, Matt Costello had six, and Gary Harris had five. That's classic Izzo ball—everyone gets involved, but without having to overextend or force their way to the ball.
With Payne, things flow.
One comes in, the other leaves.
Injuries have decimated Izzo's roster, with a nagging right wrist now plaguing senior point man Keith Appling, who, along with Payne, is supposed to carry on the tradition of each one of Izzo's four-year players reaching the Final Four.
Of course, the Spartans got away with one Thursday by playing Penn State, a conference bottom-dweller. However with Wisconsin on the horizon, Michigan State needs a real-deal star to step up—and by default, that's Payne.
Don't discount the Badgers due to their 18-5 (5-5) record. Bo Ryan has home-court advantage Sunday at the Kohl Center in Madison, and it's never a sure thing when heading to his house. Izzo most likely knows that.
And he knows that he has the short side of a weekend to figure out what he's going to do—rest Appling or push Payne. Bet on the latter. Having a point guard ready for the Big Dance is of the utmost importance.
Payne can alleviate pressure by simply being an Izzo senior, allowing guards such as Harris, Valentine and Travis Trice to pick up the slack while Appling regains his bearings, which shouldn't take too long considering Thursday was the first time he's missed a game for the Spartans.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81