EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Tom Izzo’s banged up Michigan State Spartans needed a game like this.
Adreian Payne scored 15 of his 19 points in the first half and fifth-ranked Michigan State rolled to a 78-48 victory over North Florida on Tuesday night. The Spartans never trailed despite playing without leading scorer Gary Harris, who has been nursing an ankle injury.
Big man Matt Costello (mononucleosis) and guard Travis Trice (foot blister) also missed the game.
“I actually was pleased by the way we started out — we’ve had so much adversity here,” Izzo said. “It’s been really hard on our team.”
The Michigan State coach had plenty of depth he could turn to, especially against an overmatched opponent like North Florida. Branden Dawson added 12 points and Denzel Valentine scored 11 for the Spartans, who were ranked No. 1 in the country before a loss to North Carolina on Dec. 4.
Michigan State (9-1) narrowly avoided an upset against Oakland last weekend before routing North Florida.
Jalen Nesbitt scored 11 points for the Ospreys (5-7), an Atlantic Sun team that has also lost big to Ohio State and Indiana this season.
“Obviously, we’re on the back end of our Big Ten-A Sun challenge,” North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll joked. “We’re waiting for our gifts that you guys are going to send us from Ohio State, Indiana and Michigan State.”
Michigan State led the Ospreys 50-19 at halftime after shooting 71 percent and holding North Florida to 7 of 32 from the field.
This was Michigan State’s first home game since the disheartening loss to North Carolina. It was played in front of a subdued crowd, although there was an understandable roar with 7:46 left in the first half when some members of the school’s Big Ten champion football team were introduced. By then, the basketball Spartans had this game under control. Michigan State beat Oakland by only four points, but Tuesday’s game was one-sided from the start.
Off the opening tip, Keith Appling tossed an alley-oop pass to Dawson for an immediate 2-0 lead. Appling did not attempt a shot from the field in the first half, but the Michigan State point guard didn’t need to with Payne and Dawson both looking sharp.
“Right now, we’re scrambling,” Izzo said. “I guess in general I was pleased by the performance. Disappointed in a few things, and still question-marking where we are with this incredible injury situation we’re in.”
The Spartans began the game on a 21-4 run and led 40-14 after a jumper by the 6-foot-10 Payne. Dawson added another alley-oop dunk early in the second half to make it 54-21.
“Coach has been telling me to bring my energy every day,” Dawson said. “When I do that, I feel a lot better about everything.”
North Florida lost 99-64 to Ohio State and 89-68 to Indiana. This final score was similar to those two. The Ospreys ended up at 4 of 25 from 3-point range after going 1 of 14 in the first half.
Russell Byrd added 10 points for Michigan State, which didn’t have a single player log 30 minutes. The Spartans led by as many as 37.
Izzo took over the microphone with 2:01 to play so he could announce that official Ed Hightower was working his final game at Michigan State. The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
The Spartans will travel to Texas to face the Longhorns on Saturday.
“I haven’t watched any film of Texas, but I know they’re athletic,” Payne said. “And they’re much better than they were last year.”
Izzo said Costello won’t even make the trip to Texas. The situation is less clear for Harris and Trice.
“I have no clue — none,” Izzo said. “I have no clue. And you know what? I’m done worrying about it, because I’ve spent about a week now worrying about these different things that I can’t control. I’m going to go down there with whatever guys are ready that can play, and then we’re going to play.”