EAST LANSING – Adreian Payne decided to return to Michigan State for his senior season rather than make the jump to the NBA, and it’s turning out to be a pretty wise decision.
He’ll look to continue his stellar play Saturday when the fifth-ranked Spartans host New Orleans after a six-day break.
The 6-foot-10 Payne averaged 10.5 points and 7.6 rebounds as a junior, garnering attention from NBA teams because of his athleticism and above-the-rim style of play.
Considered a fringe first-round pick, Payne decided to stay at Michigan State (10-1) and has only been helping his draft stock. He’s fourth in the Big Ten in scoring at 18.1 points per game and fifth in rebounding with 8.0 per game.
He’s also added an outside touch, shooting 45.7 percent from 3-point range. He’s hit 16 from behind the arc after making 17 over his first three seasons combined.
Payne scored a career-high 33 points while hitting 10 of 13 from the field and 11 of 12 free throws as the Spartans used a second-half surge to win 92-78 at Texas last Saturday.
“This is probably Adreian Payne’s best game of his life and definitely of his Michigan State career,” coach Tom Izzo said. “We went to him just about every time and he delivered almost every time, with the way he shot from the field, from the 3-point line, from the free throw line, getting nine boards. He did a heck of a job.”
Payne’s performance came at a good time for the Spartans, who have won three straight after falling to North Carolina on Dec. 4. Fellow senior Keith Appling struggled and finished with four points – nearly 11 below his average – on 2-of-11 shooting before fouling out.
Gary Harris came off the bench to score 19 points after missing three of the previous four games with an ankle injury, and Branden Dawson added 11 points and 10 boards to help make up for Appling’s tough day.
“Listening to (Appling) after the game thanking the guys for picking him up was maybe as big a part of this as the win,” Izzo said. “I think our team grew a little bit.”
The break should help the healing process for Harris and Appling, who has been playing through a hip pointer. The Spartans now get back to work against a New Orleans team playing for the first time in 12 days.
The Privateers (3-4) of the Southland Conference knocked off UTEP 71-69 in their last contest Dec. 16, as Cory Dixon and Matt Derenbecker scored 12 points apiece. The victory snapped a 25-game road losing streak to Division I opponents.
“This win is big for us not only as a program, but as a team,” coach Mark Slessinger told the school’s official website. “We continue to improve each day and we remain hungry to get better and move the program forward.”
Dixon, averaging a team-leading 15.0 points, was held scoreless in the first half, but UNO was able to stay close and trail by only two at halftime.
“We had huge contributions from so many of our guys, including the bench,” Slessinger said.
The Privateers are shooting just 38.6 percent in five games against D-I opponents, and the Spartans’ last three foes have hit only 36.0 percent.
Michigan State has never faced New Orleans but is 7-0 against current Southland teams.
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