SPOKANE, Wash. — There was the barrage of 3-pointers, the left-handed spin move, the steady work in the post, the can’t-miss free throw shooting.
Pick a skill and Adreian Payne has it. The 6-foot-10 senior put everything on display Thursday in a career-high, 41-point performance that helped Michigan State look every bit a March Madness favorite as the fourth-seeded Spartans beat Delaware 93-78.
Payne’s overall line: 10 for 15 from the field, 4 for 5 from 3-point range, a tournament-record 17 for 17 from the free throw line. He chipped in eight rebounds, too.
He scored 12 straight points over a 105-second stretch in the first half to help the Spartans (27-8) open an 18-point lead over the 13th-seeded Blue Hens (25-10).
Those points came three at a time — a trio of spot-up 3s and one ridiculous, spinning left-hander from the paint while he was being mugged by Carl Baptiste. Payne stepped to the line to make the free throw with his right hand — the hand he shoots most of his shots with — and by then, he had pretty much proven his point.
But there was more. With the game out of reach, he played almost to the end and the Spartans fed him. He dunked with 4:26 left to reach his career high and break Greg Kelser’s record, set in the title year of 1979, for most points in an NCAA tournament game by a Spartan.
A few minutes later, Payne became the first player to crack 40 in a March Madness game since Stephen Curry hit the number for Davidson in a 2008 game against Gonzaga.
It had to be quite a moment for 8-year-old Lacey Holsworth, a cancer patient back in Michigan who Payne has turned into his best buddy. He’s brought her along to a number of events, including the Big Ten tournament last week, where Holsworth helped cut down the nets when the Spartans took the title.
That tournament run made Michigan State a trendy pick in lots of brackets, including that of President Barack Obama, who has the Spartans winning it all.
After one game, they certainly look unstoppable.
When Payne cooled down briefly in the second half, Michigan State turned to Travis Trice, who scored 13 of his 19 points in the second half to prevent Delaware, the Colonial Athletic Association champs, from turning this into a game.
Branden Dawson, the Big Ten tournament’s most valuable player, finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists — modest on this day. He’ll have another chance Saturday, when the Spartans play 12th-seeded Harvard, a 61-57 winner over Cincinnati in an earlier East region game.
Devon Saddler had 21 points and Davon Usher added 20 for Delaware, which made its first NCAA appearance since 1999.