Hours before game time No. 18 Michigan State had social media buzzing because of an altercation between teammates Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson that resulted in a first-half benching for both players.
At 11:11 a.m., Dawson and Payne engaged in a verbal dispute in a lobby area on the second floor of the Nittany Lion Inn, police said. The argument escalated, punches were exchanged and a wall at the hotel was dented, according to a police report.
After watching the first 20 minutes from the sideline, Payne and Dawson both made an impact in the second half of Michigan State’s nine-point victory. Coach Tom Izzo, brought both Dawson and Payne with him to address the media upon the game’s conclusion.
"It was embarrassing what we did, scuffling between each other, I kind of pushed him against the wall, put a hole in the wall,” Dawson said. “…Coach didn't play us in the first half, and we deserved it, to be punished like that."
Izzo called the scuffle “disappointing”, but did not overblow the situation saying that it is something he’s seen between players many times during his career.
"I don't want to minimize it, but if I told you how many fights and tussles there are in athletic teams all around, it would blow you away,” Izzo said. “When you do it publicly now, with these damn things [picks up cell phone], you're just held at a different standard. …It's not like these guys robbed a bank, were in a drug thing or alcohol.
Thought police were called Izzo confirmed that no charges were pressed and that both players would pay for the damage that they caused at the hotel.
With the two starters out of the game the Lions took advantage, slowing the tempo and playing a very competitive first half against the Spartans that ended with Penn State trailing by just four points 29-25.
The Lions picked up where they left off to start the second, with hot shooting by redshirt junior Jermaine Marshall. Penn State tied the game, 31-31 with 17:56 when Izzo made a move that would completely turn the tide of the game by inserting Payne and Dawson into the lineup with 16:37 in the half.
Payne described his excited entering the game as similar to “a dog being let out of a cage.” He took advantage when unleashed upon Penn State.
The Spartans showed what they were missing as Payne got going early and often. Having played just more than seven minutes in the game, Payne put up 16 points and showed his versatility scoring in a variety of ways. From baby hooks from the paint, to and-one opportunities and even a 3-pointer, Payne was an all-around problem for the undersized Penn State defense. The 6-foot-10 junior the game with 20 points.
"Sitting out the whole half, I never really did that before this year,” Payne said. “I kind of felt like a little kid on punishment. As a kid, nobody wants to be punished. I'm looking at it as a learning situation and I'm definitely going to grow from it."
Dawson also contributed with five points and five rebounds, his most memorable play being an emphatic two handed jam with eight minutes remaining that put the Spartans up 58-48. The sophomore used the altercation as fuel for his play.
“"We really wanted to go out there and help our team, they were kind of struggling a little bit,” Dawson said. “We knew we could help this team out. I was telling [Payne], we need to push this aside and make this team better."
Izzo said the reason he had his players address the media was so they could “understand what it’s like to be a coach” and own up to their actions. The stern coach ended things in a light exchange with Payne.
"It was just shoves," Payne initially said about how far the fight escalated between him and roommate, Dawson.
Izzo interrupted and said there were a couple of swings.
"A couple swings, but we resolved it, and we got to go back to the same apartment and lay our heads next to each other," Payne said.
"I wouldn’t go that far," Izzo joked.