SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — It’s rare for an underdog like Delaware to question where it gets placed in the bracket.
Then again, few teams got a tougher break than the Blue Hens.
Seeded 13th, Delaware found itself up against one of the favorites to win the national championship in fourth-seeded Michigan State. Coach Monte Ross insists his team would have beaten about anyone Thursday night. Instead, Delaware lost 93-78.
“I’m not complaining,” Ross said. “I’m only reiterating what the whole country is saying. If the country is saying you’re the odds-on favorite to win the national championship, you’re not 16th best in the country.”
Devon Saddler led Delaware (25-10) with 21 points and Davon Usher had 20.
But Ross’ team got overpowered — outrebounded 42-24 and unable to find an answer for Adreian Payne, who scored a career-high 41 points and was the first player to hit the 40 mark in the NCAA tournament since Stephen Curry of Davidson in 2008.
“Forty-one is 41, and he was a load tonight,” Ross said. “He was probably the best big man that I have faced in 21 years of college basketball.”
The 6-foot-10 senior went 10 for 15 from the field, 4 for 5 from 3-point range, and shot a tournament-record 17 for 17 from the free throw line. He chipped in eight rebounds, too.
“He was playing in another zone, not even in the ozone,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “He was in Pluto and beyond.”
Payne thought long and hard about leaving for the NBA after last season. He decided to stick around to see if he could lead Michigan State to another Final Four.
Asked what his best night — at least so far — in a Spartan uniform means to him, Payne said, “Leaving a legacy.”
“I talked to Coach about that,” he said. “The other day, I sent him a text and we’re just trying to win games. We are here to win the weekend and that’s the main goal.”
Michigan State’s next game is Saturday against 12th-seeded Harvard, which beat Cincinnati 61-57 earlier in an earlier East region contest.
Though his entire performance was sublime, it was never better than during a 105-second stretch midway through the first half. Payne scored 12 straight points to help the Spartans (27-8) open an 18-point lead.
Those points came three at a time — a trio of spot-up 3s and one ridiculous, spinning left-hander from the paint while he was being mugged by Carl Baptiste. Payne stepped to the line to make the free throw with his right hand — the hand he shoots most of his shots with — and by then, he had pretty much proven his point.
With the game out of reach — but Izzo less than satisfied with what he called an uneven effort — Payne played almost to the end and the Spartans fed him. He dunked with 4:26 left to reach his career high and break Greg Kelser’s record for most points by a Spartan in an NCAA tournament game.
Points Nos. 40 and 41 came on free throws; the second one gave him the record for most makes in an NCAA tournament game without a miss. The previous holders are a couple of unforgettable names: Bill Bradley (1963, Princeton) and Fennis Dembo (1987, Wyoming).
“When you’re scoring like that and your game’s coming so easy to you, and you make a lot of shots, it feels like you’re in a rhythm,” Payne said. “It feels like you can’t be stopped.”
Against that, Delaware had no chance, and Ross figures he’s not the last coach who will scratch his head when seeing the ‘4’ by Michigan State’s name.
“They’re really, really good,” he said. “And we played high-level teams before this year. And they’re the best that we’ve played. It’s not even close.”
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