STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Michigan State played short-handed for a half Wednesday, but when all was said and done, it mattered little.
Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson did not start for the Spartans after being involved in an altercation at the team hotel Wednesday morning. However, both entered the game early in the second half and sparked the decisive run in No. 18 Michigan State's 81-72 victory over Penn State at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Payne finished with a career-high 20 points, scoring eight straight at one point, while Dawson chipped in five points, five rebounds, three assists and a block.
"Coming off a day when you've got a lot of distractions and more meetings about things that aren't basketball, I think I learned something about my team," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "It's funny to talk about character when you have a public incident, but you learn about character. You learn to fight through things life throws at you, and in that, I was pleased."
Michigan State (15-3, 4-1 Big Ten) also got 14 points from Gary Harris, while Derrick Nix and Keith Appling each scored 12. Travis Trice chipped in 11.
Jermaine Marshall kept Penn State (8-9, 0-5) in the game, scoring a game-high 29. D.J. Newbill added 27 for the Nittany Lions.
Well before the game started, police were called to Michigan State's team hotel after a scuffle between Payne and Dawson around 11 a.m. The players reportedly hit each other, and one allegedly was thrown into a wall, but no charges were filed.
The incident began innocently enough over Dawson forgetting his practice jersey and Payne giving him a hard time. Quickly, however, things got out of hand.
"I feel embarrassed and want to apologize to Penn State and our program," Payne said. "I feel bad about the situation, and I'm going to learn from it and grow from it."
The two are roommates in East Lansing, and they vowed the incident would not linger. They were even able to joke about it, as Payne indicated they would "lay our heads next to each other" when they returned to their apartment.
"Maybe not that close," Izzo said, as Dawson simply stated their rooms were next to each other.
Their teammates were also certain the incident will be put in the past.
"They've already kissed and made up," Appling said.
Before things were being talked about postgame, there was the matter of trying to earn a Big Ten win.
In the first half, Penn State took advantage of the duo's absence. Newbill attacked Michigan State in the lane, scoring nine points, and Marshall added seven for the Nittany Lions, who trailed by just four at the break.
After halftime, the Spartans got a lift from Payne and Dawson. They entered the game with 16:37 to play, and that's when Payne went to work, helping Michigan State turn a tight game into a blowout.
"He hit some great shots, the fade-away 15-footers and 3s," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said of Payne. "I mean, did he make what one 3 all year? He was energized obviously from what happened, and he was ready to go. He did some great things, and we didn't have that punch back when he came in."
Penn State did not go quietly, however, cutting the Michigan State lead to five points behind the play of Marshall and Newbill.
"I thought that was the worst job we've done (on ball screens)," Izzo said, "but they did the best job of attacking us."
Despite the late surge by the Lions, Michigan State was able to ice the game at the free-throw line.
And even with an outstanding game from Payne, Izzo was not about to let the junior off the hook, indicating it must not take a first-half benching to get him fired up.
"If he does, that means he's pretty small," Izzo said. "He came out and played good, so give him credit. But if he thinks I'm going to pat him on the back for doing something stupid to get motivated, then I don't want a motivated player. I'm probably dropping it after tonight, but in fairness to them, there's been more than one or two fights in my career, nothing outwardly like this. It's just a team thing and some people are immature, and those guys were immature today."
NOTES: Penn State averaged 78.5 points per game in its final four non-conference games, but it averaged just 49.5 points in its first four Big Ten games. ... Wednesday's game was the only meeting of the season between the teams. ... Russell Byrd's first-half 3-pointer was his first in six games. Counted on to be a weapon from the perimeter, Byrd entered the game just 6-for-33 from long range. He finished 1-for-2 from the floor Wednesday, both 3-point attempts, and he scored three points in six minutes.