Coming into the NCAA tournament, Michigan State was the trendy pick to not only make it to the Final Four, but also to still be standing tall at the end of the Big Dance. Even President Barack Obama had the Spartans winning the entire tournament.
After struggling to shake off the cobwebs early in the contest against No. 13 Delaware on Thursday, the mighty Spartans looked the part throughout the game during a 93-78 win. With the victory, MSU advances to the round of 32 to face upset-minded No. 12 Harvard in the East Region.
The Spartans were paced by a huge scoring effort from Adreian Payne. The senior navigated his way through Delaware's defense in the first half for 23 points and finished with 41 points in the contest.
With just 35 points, the senior set a program record for scoring in the NCAA tournament, according to Michigan State basketball's official Twitter account:
Adreian Payne has scored an MSU NCAA Tournament-record 35 points, breaking previous mark held by Greg Kelser (34 vs. Notre Dame, 1979).— Spartan Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) March 20, 2014
After setting a school record that stood for over three decades, Payne took care of an overall tournament record. With his 17-for-17 performance at the charity stripe, he set another all-time mark, according to NCAA March Madness' account:
Payne's contributions weren't limited to scoring, though. The senior also pulled down eight rebounds and was a bull down low for the Spartans.
A 6'10", 245-pound center, Payne got the job done both down low and outside the arch, going 4-of-4 from downtown throughout the first half. Jim Comparoni of Spartan Magazine gives his thoughts on the senior's talent:
Not many guys in college basketball like Payne.— Jim Comparoni (@JimComparoni) March 20, 2014
Chad Ford of ESPN also notes that more elite scoring showings from Payne could result in a lock near the top of the 2014 NBA draft as a lottery pick:
Adreian Payne with a huge 41 pt game today. One of the few stretch fours in Draft. More big games could make him a lock for the lottery.— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) March 20, 2014
Payne briefly talked about the game via lansingstatejournal.com: "When you’re scoring like that and the game’s coming so easy to you. ... it feels like you can’t be stopped."
Through the first five minutes of the game, Delaware controlled momentum and held a 10-9 advantage. However, Sparty quickly regained control with a run that had them leading 33-18 with seven minutes remaining in the first frame.
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But just like any great prize fight between hungry teams, the Fightin Blue Hens didn't shy away and used a 21-8 run of their own late in the first half into the early portion of the second half to get the game back to 44-39.
Nearly every time the Spartans appeared to be pulling away, the Fightin Blue Hens came up with another big shot of their own. But that luck finally ran out down the stretch as Michigan State pulled away to lead by double digits for much of the remainder of the game.
Much of that was due to poor shooting from one side and accuracy from the Spartans:
Michigan State has hit 9-of-12 field-goal attempts (.750) in the second half while Delaware has started just 4-of-12 shooting (.333).— Spartan Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) March 20, 2014
Delaware's poor shooting performance was likely due to its starters being overworked. Its bench players fell well short of the Spartans' bench production:
With 7:20 left in the second half, MSU leads Delaware, 73-56. The Spartan bench has outscored Delaware's reserves, 23-6. #MSUNCAA— Spartan Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) March 20, 2014
Along with Payne's production, Keith Appling also made his presence felt. Though he only scored four points, the senior finished with five assists and set a career mark of his own in the game, per Adam Ruff of Spartan Radio:
With that basket, Keith Appling becomes the 18th Spartan to score 1,500 points in his career.— Adam Ruff (@Spartan_Radio) March 20, 2014
Moving forward, the Spartans face another lower seed in No. 12 Harvard. But after garnering confidence from a win over No. 5 Cincinnati earlier on Thursday, the Crimson could have the offense to stack up well against the Spartans.
Following the loss for Cincinnati, head coach Mick Cronin spoke about the Ivy League team, via Comparoni:
Cincy coach Mick Cronin on Harvard: "They are one of the best teams we played all year. We knew that all week. Tough draw for us." #MSU— Jim Comparoni (@JimComparoni) March 20, 2014
Though Sparty is still alive in the tournament, they will have to once again have a strong showing against the Crimson in order to advance to the Sweet 16. They also have their sights set on much bigger goals, so they have to be careful not to look ahead too far.
But with Payne playing the best basketball of his career alongside an effective Gary Harris and Appling, Michigan State appears to be the team that nearly every analyst thought it could be entering the field.
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