BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Much of the hype during the early part of the college basketball season centered on some fabulous freshmen.
But a senior established himself as the premier center in the country and took his act to the bright lights of New York City.
Adreian Payne scored a career-high 29 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked three shots in No. 1 Michigan State's 96-77 rout of Virginia Tech on Friday night in the second semifinal of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center.
Payne's presence helped the Spartans outscore Virginia Tech, 40-14 in the paint.
"We thought if we could keep him out of the paint and out there shooting three's it would benefit us, but he was knocking shots down and he was the spark for Michigan State," said Virginia Tech coach James Johnson.
Michigan State opened the second half right where it ended the first half -- on a huge run. The Spartans used a 25-3 blitz in the first 9:23 of the second half to take control and move comfortably ahead 69-39.
"They have a lot of weapons and if they all play that way on a given night, they are a really good team," said Johnson. "If Adreian Payne plays the way he plays with him being an inside and outside threat, they are really tough."
Payne got the Spartans the lead after a sluggish first six minutes of the first half. He scored 13 of his 20 first-half points, including two long 3-pointers in a 19-5 Spartan run during the last 6:48 of the half that provided a 46-33 cushion.
The Spartans had struggled in the first half against Portland on Monday, leading by only four at 36-32 before eventually rolling to an 82-67 win. A slow start also had them in trouble against Columbia, which they trailed by four at halftime before pulling out a 62-53 victory on Nov. 15.
"We're by no means a dominant team," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. "There are certain things I have to do to get our rotation down."
NOTES: Virginia Tech is 19-14 against teams in the Big Ten. ... The Hokies are 0-3 against top-ranked teams in neutral-site games. ... Michigan State has held opponents below 40 percent shooting from the field in each of the last two seasons. ... The Spartans have out-rebounded 77 percent of their opponents under coach Tom Izzo. ... The Spartans had lost three of their last five regular-season games on neutral courts against unranked teams before Friday night.