Penn State brought a three-game winning streak into the Breslin Center before finding out what a Big Ten title contender looks like.
"It tells me where we are," Nittany Lions coach Patrick Chambers said. "We still have a lot of room to grow and get better."
Tim Frazier scored 22 points, but his Penn State teammates couldn't find the mark from the perimeter in Thursday night's 82-67 loss to No. 9 Michigan State. The Nittany Lions went 5 of 22 from 3-point range.
Adreian Payne scored 12 points for the Spartans in his return from a foot injury. Payne hadn't played since Jan. 7 because of a sprained foot, but although he didn't start Thursday, he did play 18 minutes, going 5 of 9 from the field.
The Spartans (20-3, 9-1 Big Ten) were still nowhere near full strength. Keith Appling, who has been dealing with a wrist problem, sat out, and Branden Dawson is still out because of a broken hand.
Kenny Kaminski scored a career-high 19 points for the Spartans.
Frazier needed two assists to set Penn State's career record, but he only managed one, tying the mark of 600 by Freddie Barnes. Frazier went 9 of 14 from the field and 3 for 4 from 3-point range. The rest of the team was 2 for 18 from beyond the arc.
"We wanted to come in and continue to fight and be the best team we could be," Frazier said. "Some shots didn't fall, but we have to learn from this."
D.J. Newbill scored 17 points for Penn State (12-11, 3-7) but missed all seven of his attempts from 3-point range.
"They played that much better — they really did," Chambers said. "I thought we'd come in here and compete a little bit. I really did. I thought we'd give them a game."
Despite all of its injury woes, Michigan State is tied for first with rival Michigan atop the Big Ten. Everyone else in the conference is at least three games back.
"I just feel that we're in the hunt right now," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "After what we've gone through, we're in the hunt, and that's what I told our players. You've got to be in the hunt before you get a chance to win a championship."
Payne missed Michigan State's loss to Michigan late last month, and the crowd gave him a nice ovation when he reported to the scorer's table to check in for the first time Thursday. Payne entered with 16:21 left in the first half and made his first shot, from just inside the 3-point line.
"It was like Willis Reed coming off the bench," Chambers said, referring to the New York Knicks' captain's dramatic playoff appearance in 1970. "The crowd was going crazy — standing ovation."
Payne was active throughout the first half but also seemed tired at times. Perhaps that was to be expected after he was out for about a month.
The Spartans went on an 11-0 run to take a 22-8 lead. A 3-pointer by Kaminski made it 35-16, and the Nittany Lions never threatened.
Matt Costello capped the first half with a dunk while being fouled with 12 seconds left. His three-point play gave Michigan State a 46-30 lead.
It was 61-44 after Kaminski's 3-pointer banked in off the glass.
"I think the basket looked like an ocean to them. Everything was going in," Chambers said. "I think they hit a bank — top of the key. That's when you know it's not your night."
A 3-pointer by Gary Harris pushed the lead to 20.
Kaminski went 7 of 9 from the field, 5 of 6 from 3-point range. That enabled the Spartans to withstand Appling's absence and 5-for-16 shooting by Harris.
Michigan State has won 20 games for the 14th time in the last 17 seasons.