EAST LANSING Tom Izzo's banged up Michigan State Spartans needed a game like this.
Adreian Payne scored 15 of his 19 points in the first half and fifth-ranked Michigan State rolled to a 78-48 victory over North Florida on Tuesday night. The Spartans never trailed despite playing without leading scorer Gary Harris, who has been nursing an ankle injury.
Big man Matt Costello
(mononucleosis) and guard Travis Trice (foot blister) also missed the game.
"I actually was pleased by the way we started out -- we've had so much adversity here," Izzo said. "It's been really hard on our team."
The Michigan State coach had plenty of depth he could turn to, especially against an overmatched opponent like North Florida. Branden Dawson added 12 points and Denzel Valentine scored 11 for the Spartans, who were ranked No. 1 in the country before a loss to North Carolina on Dec. 4.
Michigan State (9-1) narrowly avoided an upset against Oakland last weekend before routing North Florida.
Jalen Nesbitt scored 11 points for the Ospreys (5-7), an Atlantic Sun team that has also lost big to Ohio State and Indiana this season.
"Obviously, we're on the back end of our Big Ten-A Sun challenge," North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll joked. "We're waiting for our gifts that you guys are going to send us from Ohio State, Indiana and Michigan State."
Michigan State led the Ospreys 50-19 at halftime after shooting 71 percent and holding North Florida to 7 of 32 from the field.
Off the opening tip, Keith Appling tossed an alley-oop pass to Dawson for an immediate 2-0 lead. Appling did not attempt a shot from the field in the first half, but the Michigan State point guard didn't need to with Payne and Dawson both looking sharp.
"Right now, we're scrambling," Izzo said. "I guess in general I was pleased by the performance. Disappointed in a few things, and still question-marking where we are with this incredible injury situation we're in."
The Spartans began the game on a 21-4 run and led 40-14 after a jumper by the 6-foot-10 Payne. Dawson added another alley-oop dunk early in the second half to make it 54-21.
"Coach has been telling me to bring my energy every day," Dawson said. "When I do that, I feel a lot better about everything."
North Florida lost 99-64 to Ohio State and 89-68 to Indiana. This final score was similar to those two. The Ospreys ended up at 4 of 25 from 3-point range after going 1 of 14 in the first half.
Russell Byrd added 10 points for Michigan State, which didn't have a single player log 30 minutes. Byrd scored two driving lay-ups in garbage time. His two 3-pointers came midway through the game, as he saw more playing time with Trice out.
The Spartans led by as many as 37.
Izzo took over the microphone with 2:01 to play so he could announce that official Ed Hightower was working his final game at Michigan State. The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
The Spartans will travel to Texas to face the Longhorns on Saturday.
"I haven't watched any film of Texas, but I know they're athletic," Payne said. "And they're much better than they were last year."
Izzo said Costello won't even make the trip to Texas.
The situation is less clear for Harris and Trice.
"I have no clue -- none," Izzo said. "I have no clue. And you know what? I'm done worrying about it, because I've spent about a week now worrying about these different things that I can't control. I'm going to go down there with whatever guys are ready that can play, and then we're going to play."
Trice says he will be ready to go full-blast at MSU's next practice. Harris says he expects to be available to play against Texas, but the decision is up to the coaches and team doctors.
Izzo's Post-Game Comments
Opening statement: " I was pleased by the way we started out. We've had so much adversity here. To be honest with you, it was not a very good night for me because we thought we'd have those other two guys (Travis Trice and Gary Harris) playing. I found out late last night that they just didn't think they could go and they tried today. It is what it is. It's really hard on our team because who's starting, who's not starting, who's this, who's that. I just came in today and decided that those guys wouldn't be starting even if they could play and we've just got to get a team together and go from there. It's been hard. I thought we did a great job doing what we wanted to do. We went in to (Adreian) Payne early. (Branden) Dawson had some energy and (Denzel) Valentine was playing really good until, he was playing like Magic Johnson and then it went tragic on one play. Everybody knows I'm tired of that. It's not one play, it's been a year and a half of telling him the same thing so he's got to grow up a little bit but he did a helluva job early, he was really good, and he did some good things later on too. If we're going to win bigger, somebody said he (North Florida head coach Matthew Driscoll) ranked the teams, I have no idea how that went but he didn't rank our team because we didn't have our team there. Right now we're scrambling. I feel like the NFL, if you ask me who's going to play Saturday I'd say game-time decision, I have no clue. So that part is a little discouraging but for the most part the way we executed offensively, the things we did defensively, didn't turn the ball over, if (Keith) Appling - felt bad for him - kept short arming those layups, he would have had a 15, 16 point night. Probably the only thing that's negative and thank God for holiday seasons, Christmas, any time that you have a week off then there's no 20-hour rule, because we're going to spend 20 just on free throw shooting so we won't have to worry about the rule and that'll start early tomorrow morning. That was the only disappointing part of the night. We didn't rebound as good the second half. When you got a lead like that, it was hard. I guess in general I was pleased with performance. I was disappointed in a few things and still question marking where we are with this incredible injury situation."
On Gary Harris's and Travis Trice's injury: "These guys think they're Kobe Bryant. We can't not practice ever and play. Gary (Harris) has missed a lot of practices and Travis (Trice) tried to go to the shootaround today and he did layups and sat down. I don't blame him, I just mean when he says he can go, where is he going? So I made a decision before the game that they weren't playing, win, lose, or draw. But I don't know what good that's going to do either. His is bizarre, I've never seen or heard anything where you have blisters in December. You get them in September or October when you first start really getting after it. He's had this problem through high school and everything else. It's just one of those unfortunate, strange things that's not lasting at all. In Gary's case, he practiced a day and a half and I thought looked pretty good but he just doesn't feel as comfortable yet. We're still working on that."
On Alex Guana and Gavin Schilling's play tonight: " I thought there were some positives. Gauna gets six rebounds, that's almost a career. He did some better things and when he didn't I let him know. He's got to stay focused. I thought Branden Dawson on the 21-day watch we've got him on made some big time plays early. I thought Schilling really set some great screens and rolled, he's just got to finish a little better. He's running better, he's getting more active. Alvin Ellis has done some nice things. It's nice to see Alvin, he runs well, he defends well. He's got to shoot a little better from the line."
On Branden Dawson's play: " Believe it or not, he's not one of those shooters that when you shoot well you starting playing (better). He did bring it defensively. Right off the bat he did some good things. When he plays, as he gets a little too happy he starts taking too many chances but he definitely did a lot of great things in the first half. It's hard to evaluate the second half. It's coach's nightmare when you're up 30 because you want to keep growing as a team, you want to make sure some of the guys that needed to - that's why I was a little disappointed because I thought Alex had played very well and then a couple of defensive lapses just because of laziness. You kind of want to keep pushing them through it. They understood that. All in all, I thought it went pretty good."
On initial thoughts on Texas: "It's funny, there's always teams that there's addition by subtraction. They had a couple guys that they got rid of, pretty talented guys too, by the way. This is a much better team than the one they had last year. Much better. You watch them, Felix, their point guard that played pretty well against us, he's now coming off the bench. Those inside guys are playing well. It looks like a team that really gets along. They've got five guys in double figures. A lot of positive things for Rick (Barnes). I can sympathize with him and understand what he's gone through. This is a much, much different team, but a better team. It's a big game and yet it's still a little difficult wondering who we're going to have and who's going to play. I guess the good news is after that game we have a little break."