Michigan State's Adreian Payne, right, sits on the bench during Michigan State's loss to Michigan last month at Breslin Center. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
East Lansing — Michigan State is hoping to get forward Adreian Payne back in the lineup when it hosts Penn State on Thursday, and the two players who will likely be the happiest are guards Keith Appling and Gary Harris.
Payne has missed seven straight games, and in that time the Spartans guards have had their share of struggles. It has become more difficult in the past three games with Branden Dawson on the bench with a broken hand, giving the Spartans virtually no low-post offensive options.
“No doubt it puts us at a disadvantage when you don’t have a proven low-post scorer,” associate head coach Dwayne Stephens said on the Big Ten teleconference Monday. “(Matt) Costello is improving having come back from mono, but he’s still feeling his way a little bit.”
With Payne and Dawson out, Harris was held below double-figures for the only time this season in last week’s victory at Iowa and Appling scored just seven in the loss to Georgetown Saturday.
“No question Keith and Gary are getting a lot more attention,” Stephens said.
“Teams aren’t digging off those guys as much. When you don’t have a guy like Adreian Payne demands a double team or at least makes sure they dig on him, I think it hurts Keith and Gary quite a bit. It will be refreshing to get him back on the court when he returns.”
As for getting Payne back for the Penn State game, something coach Tom Izzo said last week he was planning on, Stephens said it’s still uncertain.
“He has done some running and he’s worked out a little bit,” Stephens said. “He will take part in practice today and I think is his status for the game on Thursday is still up in the air according to what he does this week in those couple of practices he gets to participate.”
Stephens said Payne would likely not take part in the entire practice Monday.
“I’m sure they’ve selected a few different portions of practice,” he said.
“I don’t think he’ll go up and down (the court) much and will probably be kept out of some of the contact stuff.”
Benefits of Georgetown
The loss to Georgetown hurt Michigan State (19-3, 8-1 Big Ten) in the rankings as it fell from No. 7 to No. 9 in the Associated Press poll this week.
However, the Spartans are back in a first-place tie in the Big Ten race with Michigan after the Wolverines’ loss at Indiana on Sunday.
And Stephens thinks the game will benefit the Spartans in the long run after getting a chance to play an offense that uses more of a Princeton style featuring plenty of backdoor cuts.
“We don’t get a chance to see that and maybe in the NCAA Tournament that can help us a little bit,” he said. “It was a chance for our team to put guys in a situation where the atmosphere was unbelievable, a tournament-type atmosphere, and hopefully we can learn something from the loss.”