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Recap: Tackling Fuel

Kevin C. Cox

It's amazing what Adreian Payne can do with some motivation. Until today, his only real motivation seemed to come from playing his home-state Ohio State Buckeyes.

After the scuffle he had with Branden Dawson became so public and he was benched for the first half, he had his motivation Wednesday.

Payne turned in a career-high 20 points in 17 second-half minutes as MSU earned an 81-72 win over Penn State. The win moves MSU to 4-1 in the conference with the hard stuff coming up.

When the scuffle news broke this morning, it turned from serious to minor, but you wondered how it would affect the game. Then Tom Izzo told the Spartan Sports Network they would sit out the first half. OK, it's Penn State, they'll be fine.

As the game got underway, MSU's offense quickly resorted to nothing but chucking up 3s against the zone. Still, they held a 29-25 lead at halftime, and Payne and Dawson would be returning. No problem. But when a jumper by Jermaine Marshall gave PSU a 36-35 lead with 15:18 to play, suddenly things didn't seem very OK.

What followed was a 19-8 MSU run with 16 of the points coming from Payne. He hit jumpers, he grabbed offensive rebounds, he made free throws and he hit a three-pointer for the second game in a row. MSU pushed the lead to 70-54 with five minutes left and it looked like they would cruise and cover the spread. But with Penn State in the bonus for the final 12 minutes, MSU's defense let up a bit, Penn State hit some shots and cut it as close as five. MSU made seven of eight free throws down the stretch to close it out.

In all, MSU scored 52 points in what might have been its best half of offensive basketball all season. They scored inside, they scored outside, they got to the hoop, they didn't turn it over. All in all, very encouraging.

Four Factors

I'm not 100 percent sure, but I believe that's the lowest turnover number for MSU on the season. MSU's defense gave up 47 points in the second half, which was discouraging, but given the Nittany Lions were in the bonus eight minutes into the half, I'm sure that had a bit to do with how they were able to defend. Oh, and an opponent again scored a career-high in points. This time, it was Jermaine Marshall's 29.

The offensive rebounding numbers were bad at halftime, but picked back up when Payne and Dawson came into the game.

Player bullets

--Payne was obviously the player of the game, even though he only played in the second half. He also grabbed seven rebounds, including three on the offensive end. Over the last two games, he's 12-for-15 from the field with a number of jump shots. If that continues, he may be reaching the NBA potential everyone saw in high school.

--As for Dawson, he finished with five points and five defensive rebounds in 14 minutes. The rebounding was important, as MSU didn't have any offensive boards until late in the first half. It finished with seven. He reportedly told Izzo Payne should be able to play while he sat the whole game. Izzo pretty much downplayed the incident. We move on.

-- Keith Appling finished with 12 points, but struggled shooting again, finishing 3-for-11 (including a #KeithAppling3PointSighting!). He went 5-or-6 from the free-throw line, while matching two assists with two turnovers. Since the 7-for-16 shooting performance at Minnesota, Appling is 9-for-36 from the field in the last four games.

-- Gary Harris quietly scored 14 points on 3-for-7 shooting, going 2-for-3 from deep and 6-for-7 from the free-throw line.

-- Travis Trice also had a solid game when MSU was looking for scoring in the first half. He finished with 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting, including two 2-pointers! He was 3-for-25 on 2-pointers entering the game.

--Derrick Nix had 12 points on a perfect 5-for-5 from the field. He also had five rebounds and four assists.

The four-game must-win streak has become a four-game winning streak. The next five games could be against teams that are ranked, beginning with Ohio State's trip to Breslin on Saturday. It will be MSU's fourth game in 10 days. Let the fun begin.