Bryce Jordan Center
State College, PA
It is was a crisp evening in State College, Pennsylvania. Michigan State was fresh off of Sunday’s win at home against a less than formidable Nebraska team that took MSU to the wire. State College was a similar story. However, the empty (25% full) Bryce-Jordan Arena didn’t even feel like a real Big Ten arena.
The road is a tough place to play in the Big Ten, but good teams win on the road against lesser teams, defend their home courts against the good ones and even sneak out a couple wins against the better ones on the road. Is MSU one of the better teams in the conference? Hard to tell… Penn State is awful.
After the altercation between Payne and Dawson, neither found their way to the floor in the first half. Even without Payne and Dawson, MSU started out red-hot knocking down four three-pointers to start the game. Harris bombed a couple with Appling and Byrd each knocking one down early. After their early success, MSU went back to playing down to their competition.
Michigan State traded baskets with Penn State throughout the later part of what was largely an uneventful first half. The most exciting thing that occurred in the first half of this MSU / PSU contest was the Student Book Store giveaway on the jumbo-tron which featured two PSU co-eds dancing. MSU lead this most exciting barnburner 29-25 at halftime.
It wasn’t until the 16:32 mark of the second half that Izzo sent Payne and Dawson onto the court. The approximately 600 Penn State fans cheered their arrival. Even a couple of hecklers found a way to commemorate the earlier hotel brawl with homemade Dawson and Payne jerseys. The only thing missing was the sound of the Rocky Anthem playing in the background. Payne and Dawson looked like two restless kids sitting in the principal’s office; they look relieved to be in the game after sitting the bench.
After Payne scored his second basket, he was sent to the line for a three-point play opportunity. The PSU fans chanted, “fight, fight, fight.” Payne missed his first attempt, igniting the approximately 600 faithful. Two possessions later he was back at the line hearing the same chants, but managed to knock both free throws down.
I am sure that there will be a lesson learned somewhere in this most embarrassing State College saga. Like most college kids, stupid things happen. I thought Payne and Dawson handled themselves well. Izzo had this to say about the situation. “I like the way they both responded. They resolved it. It was joking like you do with your brother… it went too far. In fairness to them, there has been more than two fights in my career.”
Even with MSU’s two star interior players back in the line-up, MSU couldn’t pull away from PSU until late. It was then that Payne went to work inside notching career-high twenty-points.
MSU lead 48-44 midway through the second half. MSU started to pull away at the 8:09 mark when Dawson hammered down a baseline dunk and chipped in a free throw for a three-point play. MSU lead by 13 with 7:45 to play after a Trice basket. Payne pushed the Spartan lead to 16 with a pair of free throws at the five-minute mark. Two minutes later the game was back to a manageable ten-point differential. Penn State appeared to have new life after a scrum on the MSU end of the floor resulted in a Payne foul and a trip to the line for PSU. It resulted in a free throw and a basket on a subsequent PSU offensive rebound. With 1:27 left in the game, MSU clung to a 5-point lead and the Nittany Lion fanbase, although pathetic in number, rose to their feet and tried to rally their team to victory.
After a number unnecessary fouls, the stat sheet was padded, the Big Mac’s were salvaged (70 points = Big Mac’s for PSU fans) and the Spartans won 81-72.
Coach Izzo brought Payne and Dawson into his post game press conference and they immediately addressed the State College situation.
Payne: “It escalated into a tussle. I feel embarrassed and I apologize to PSU and our program. I felt bad. It was a petty situation. I felt like a little kid (being punished).”
Payne was asked about getting on the court after being sidelined for the first half. “I felt like a dog let out of a cage.”
Dawson: “It was embarrassing. We need to put this aside and become better.”
I asked Tom Izzo about the leadership on this team. I asked him who might lead this forward and potentially elevate their team play. “Appling is guy I might make a captain. We need guys that can handle stupid things, like today. Got to have leadership when no one’s watching.”