Cancer claims 8-year-old ‘Princess Lacey’

Michigan State's Adreian Payne cuts down the net with 8-year-old Lacey Hollsworth

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Adreian Payne brought her onto the floor for his Senior Night ceremony after his final home game at Michigan State.

She was there in Indianapolis when Payne cut down the nets for a Big Ten championship, in New York as the Spartans’ NCAA title dreams came to a crushing end, and then in Dallas last week when Payne competed in a dunk contest.

Lacey Holsworth — "Princess Lacey" as she became affectionately known — passed away overnight, according to an Instagram message posted Wednesday morning by her family.

"Princess Lacey has achieved the ultimate victory," the message read. "She now dances among angels … the world is a better place because you were in it."

Lacey, an 8-year-old cancer patient, touched the hearts of basketball fans around the nation during March Madness with her inspirational story.

"Words can’t express how much I already miss Lacey," Payne said in a statement released by the university. "She is my sister, and will always be a part of my life. She taught me how to fight through everything with a smile on my face even when things were going wrong. I’m a better man because of her.

TRAGIC SPORTS DEATHS

"She said she first liked me because of my smile, but it’s her smile that made America fall in love with her.

"I know she’s smiling and dancing in heaven right now. My princess is now an angel."

She first met Payne a couple years ago when the MSU basketball team was making a hospital visit. They became very close friends, inspiring each other to greater heights.

He called her his "Little Sis" while she referred to him as "Superman."

Her passion for life was admired by those who met her, read about her and heard about her.

Jay Bilas, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, has more than 67,000 followers on Twitter, but he follows only one.

That is the account of "@adorablelacey."

"RIP Lacey Holsworth," Bilas tweeted Wednesday morning. "A beautiful soul, whose strength and courage touched and inspired us all. Heartbreaking."

MSU guard Gary Harris added in a tweet: "Wow i dont even wanna believe it @adorableacey’€™s family is in my prayers. I know she will be watching over us all #RIPLACEY."

Payne was last seen with her six days ago when Lacey sat courtside with her mother for the dunk contest. She even kissed the basketball for good luck right before Payne made a spectacular slam.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo released a statement via Instagram on behalf of the MSU basketball program:

"Princess Lacey has taught us all an incredible lesson about love, strength, and toughness," Izzo said. "We can all learn from her on how to handle adversity with class and dignity. She has become an inspiration to our team, our families, our university, and, most recently, our entire nation.

"At just eight years old, she has given us all a lifetime of memories. We are all saddened today, but we are all better people for having known Lacey. Her smile and passion for life will live in the hearts of everyone she has touched across our country."

Lacey is survived by her father, Matt Holsworth, mother Heather, brothers William, Mitchell and Luke, and, of course, her "Superman."

A memorial service for Lacey has been scheduled for April 17 at the Breslin Center on MSU’s campus, her father told the Associated Press. More details will be announced later.