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November 23, 2013

Payne dominant in Brooklyn

NEW YORK - On a night in which senior Adreian Payne wowed New York City with an All-America type performance, Tom Izzo got the biggest kick out of the way the guys in the locker room ribbed sophomore superstar Gary Harris for not properly stuffing the stat sheet of the team's other venerable senior, Keith Appling, during a 96-77 victory over Virginia Tech.

With the victory, No. 1 ranked Michigan State (5-0) advances to the finals of the 2013 Coaches vs. Classic final to face Oklahoma (4-0), at 9:30 p.m., Saturday (TruTV).

Payne scored a career-high 29 points on 10 of 15 shooting, including 4 of 6 on 3s. He also had 10 rebounds, three assists and three blocks, sending basketball pundits buzzing in the media capital of America.

But in the Spartan locker room, players teased Harris for not making more shots, and getting Appling more assists.

Appling remained sizzling from 3-point range, going 3-of-4 from long range and scored 13 points with seven assists.

Izzo appreciated some good-natured chop-busting in the locker room.

"Keith had seven assists and if Gary hits any shots, Keith has a double-double," Izzo said. "The guys were ribbing Gary to quit messing up Appling's double-double, and I thought that was pretty good."

Not as good as the fact that Michigan State racked up 26 assists as a team, on 36 field goals. It's the latest example of the skill level and chemistry on this team.

"It's sick, it's a good sick," Izzo said of the assist totals. "That shows you how unselfish and the kind of guys I got."
"It's a big year for me, my senior year, and we're trying to make it to the Final Four and this team has never won a (preseason) tournament and that's what we're trying to do," Payne told a national television audience on TruTV.

"Payne was unbelievable," Izzo said. "He was phenomenal."

Harris, a preseason All-America, scored 19 despite shooting just 2 for 12 on 3-pointers.

"Gary Harris couldn't make a shot and he ends up with 19," Izzo said. "Give him credit; once he realized his shot wasn't there, that's when he started attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line. Once we get him on track, this team is going to get better."

"I'm not worried," Harris said. "It's been a while since I've shot this badly. But it's not like I was missing badly."

The Sooners rallied to beat Seton Hall 86-85 in the first semifinal.

Virginia Tech (3-2) fell to 4-8 all-time against teams ranked No. 1.

Branden Dawson had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Spartans.

"Dawson, after a rough start, was good," Izzo said. "We really bore down for the last five minutes of the first half. And then with about seven minutes left, we kind of packed it in. That was a little disappointing, but there were a lot more positives than negatives. We just kind of have to keep getting better."

After struggling against Columbia and Portland State in their two games since beating then-No. 1 Kentucky, the Spartans appeared as if they put their early troubles behind them in jumping out to a quick five-point lead.

But the Hokies came back, even going up 28-27 with 7:09 left in the half on Adam Smith's 3-pointer - Virginia Tech was 6 for 9 on 3s for the half.

"We got off to a good start and hit them first and then they hit us back and we didn't' have an answer," Hokies coach James Johnson said.

That's putting it lightly.

Dunks. Long 3s. Inside and out, Michigan State dominated. Payne hit a 3 with 2 seconds left in the half to make it 46-33, his 20th point of the half - and leaving one final message that the past two games were not the norm for this powerhouse squad.

"We're just trying to have a lot fun," Payne said. "We're just making shots. That was a big difference. We were pushing the ball on transition. We rebounded better. That's it."

Izzo credited his squad's defense for turning things around in the middle of the first half, and Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes and 17 overall.

"I think we were loose with the ball and the nerves of the freshman hurt us a little bit," Johnson said.

During MSU's pull-away run, Payne and Appling hit 3s, Gavin Schilling had a tip-in and Dawson made alley-oop off a pass from Harris after a steal to make it 69-39, finishing the play with a "Whoop!" after he missed a big dunk attempt earlier and was shaken up.

"He's very efficient right now," Izzo said of Payne, who returned for a senior season rather than test the NBA draft. "I hope we start appreciating guys who stay around school and get better."

Even redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski got in on the action. He scored his first points in college, making a 3-pointer with 1:04 to go.

Payne made two free throws with 16:48 to go in the first half to put Michigan State up 10-5. Michigan State went on a 16-5 run to open the 13-point halftime lead.

After trading baskets to start the half, Michigan State ran off the next 14 points to the delight of the small but boisterous crowd.

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