BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Much of the hype during the early part of the college basketball season centered on some fabulous freshmen.
But a senior established himself as the premier center in the country and took his act to the bright lights of New York City.
Adreian Payne scored a career-high 29 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked three shots in No. 1 Michigan State's 96-77 rout of Virginia Tech on Friday night in the second semifinal of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center.
The 6-foot-10, 240-pound Payne victimized Virginia Tech (3-2) from the low post and the perimeter. He knocked down 4 of 6 three-point shots while recording three dunks.
Payne's presence helped the Spartans outscore Virginia Tech, 40-14 in the paint.
"I had a feeling it was going to be a good night during the walkthrough," admitted Payne. "I let it go in the game. I just felt it today. I felt like I was going to make a lot of shots."
"We thought if we could keep him out of the paint and out there shooting three's it would benefit us, but he was knocking shots down and he was the spark for Michigan State," said Virginia Tech coach James Johnson.
Payne entered the night averaging 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds.
Sophomore guard Gary Harris scored 19 points, senior guard Keith Appling had 13 points and junior swing Branden Dawson added 12 points for Michigan State (5-0).
Sophomore guard Adam Smith led Virginia Tech with 27 points. Forward Jarell Eddie added 23 points for the Hokies.
After playing two consecutive relatively tight games, the Spartans left no doubt about the verdict Friday night, putting away the Hokies midway through the first half.
Michigan State will play Oklahoma, an 86-85 winner over Seton Hall on Friday night, in the title game on Saturday night.
"We rebounded better and we made our shots," explained Payne about the difference against Virginia Tech.
The Spartans struggled with Columbia on Nov. 15 before putting the game away 62-53, then had to overcome another slow start against Portland on Monday night before winning 82-67.
Michigan State opened the second half right where it ended the first half -- on a huge run. The Spartans used a 25-3 blitz in the first 9:23 of the second half to take control and move comfortably ahead 69-39.
Appling contributed two 3-pointers in the barrage and Payne added five points.
"They have a lot of weapons and if they all play that way on a given night, they are a really good team," said Johnson. "If Adreian Payne plays the way he plays with him being an inside and outside threat, they are really tough."
Payne got the Spartans the lead after a sluggish first six minutes of the first half. He scored 13 of his 20 first-half points, including two long 3-pointers in a 19-5 Spartan run during the last 6:48 of the half that provided a 46-33 cushion.
The Hokies led 28-27 on the strength of their 3-point shooting. Eddie nailed three of his four 3's early to help Virginia Tech build the small lead.
The Spartans had struggled in the first half against Portland on Monday, leading by only four at 36-32 before eventually rolling to an 82-67 win. A slow start also had them in trouble against Columbia, which they trailed by four at halftime before pulling out a 62-53 victory on Nov. 15.
"We're by no means a dominant team," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. "There are certain things I have to do to get our rotation down."
NOTES: Virginia Tech is 19-14 against teams in the Big Ten. ... The Hokies are 0-3 against top-ranked teams in neutral-site games. ... Michigan State has held opponents below 40 percent shooting from the field in each of the last two seasons. ... The Spartans have out-rebounded 77 percent of their opponents under coach Tom Izzo. ... The Spartans had lost three of their last five regular-season games on neutral courts against unranked teams before Friday night.