Adreian Payne was already a star player for the Michigan State Spartans, but after his record-smashing performance in the second round of the NCAA tournament, he's introducing himself to the rest of the nation as "Superman."
Yes, his performance on Thursday was just that good.
The 6'9" senior scored 41 points in No. 4 Michigan State's 93-78 victory over No. 13 Delaware. He was 10-of-15 from the floor and 17-of-17 from the line, an NCAA tournament record. That's not all.
He set the single-game NCAA tournament scoring record for Michigan State, scored the most points by a Michigan State player since 1995 and became the first player since 2004 to score 41 points in the NCAA tournament.
Lindsey Schnell of SI.com's One-and-One blog detailed just how dominant Payne was in this game.
[T]he night belonged to Payne, who used a variety of moves inside and precision from long-distance (4-of-5) to tally a career best. He physically dominated at both ends, holding Delaware big man Carl Baptiste to just six points. He scored 17 of Michigan State’s final 20 points of the first half, giving the Spartans a 44-33 lead at the break. At one point he went on a 12-0 run by himself, upping the Spartans’ lead to 36-18, a deficit from which Delaware could never fully recover.
Like I said—Superman.
Of course, I didn't come up with the nickname. It was Lacey Holsworth, his eight-year-old friend who is battling cancer, who first compared Payne to the superhero.
Back in February, Bleacher Report's own Jason King reported on the touching friendship between Payne and Holsworth, who met while the Michigan State team was visiting the hospital over a year ago.
Since that meeting, Payne and Holsworth have texted and visited with each other often. The two have gotten so close that they refer to each other as siblings.
Throughout her cancer treatments this year, Holsworth has cheered on Payne and his fellow Spartans, often from the stands while wearing Payne's jersey. Thankfully, she's had a lot of reasons to cheer. This season, Michigan State is 27-8 and won the Big Ten tournament.
Payne has been a rock for the team all year long. He's second on the team in both scoring and rebounds, and has successfully fought his way through injuries to become a projected first-round draft pick in the NBA. After Thursday's phenomenal showcase, his stock is about to skyrocket.
It's a good thing Payne decided to stay at Michigan State for his senior year. His head coach Tom Izzo certainly thinks so, for many reasons. Here's what his head coach, Tom Izzo, had to say, via The Associated Press:
He made the right decision to stay. He's a much more cerebral player, he's a much stronger player. He is starting to marry the inside-outside game. And if he does that on a consistent basis, I see him as one of the best '4' men in the whole country.
Michigan State is a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, a seed that seems ridiculously low given all that they've accomplished this year and Izzo's storied history in March. In fact many, including Nate Silver and President Barack Obama, have picked Michigan State to win the national title.
The way the team looked in their first game, that's a definite possibility.
Payne told reporters that he plans on "leaving a legacy" during this tournament. By having the best game of his career in the last tournament of his college career, he's off to a good start.
The journey is far from over, though. Michigan State will face No. 12 Harvard on Saturday to see if they can advance to the Sweet 16. Once again, the team will be looking for Payne to lead the way. Of course, 41 points will be hard to replicate.
"When you're scoring like that and your game's coming so easy to you, and you make a lot of shots, it feels like you're in a rhythm," Payne told reporters after the game, acknowledging how special his performance was. "It feels like you can't be stopped."
It was a superhuman effort from a guy who has showcased his special powers both on and off the court. Now, if Payne wants to extend his time as a Spartan, he's going to have to go out there and do it again.
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