- Associated Press - Friday, February 7, 2014

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Adreian Payne returned and Keith Appling sat out.

Just another night in this injury-plagued season for Michigan State, which is still right there at the top of the Big Ten standings.

“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 scored 12 points in his first game back from a foot injury, and the ninth-ranked Spartans kept pace in the league race with an 82-67 victory over Penn State on Thursday night.

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.

“It felt good to be back on the court,” Payne said. “Overall, I’m satisfied.”

The Spartans (20-3, 9-1 Big Ten) were still nowhere near full strength. Appling, who has been dealing with a wrist problem, sat out, and Branden Dawson is still out with a broken hand.

Izzo said he has no idea if Appling will be ready for Sunday’s game at Wisconsin.

“It just has been getting worse and worse,” Izzo said. “He falls a lot. I told him he’s got to go to gymnastics class - learn how to fall without landing on your wrist. … I know this, out of every guy I’ve got on my team, he’s the toughest. If he can play, he’ll play.”

Kenny Kaminski scored a career-high 19 points for the Spartans.

Tim Frazier scored 22 points for Penn State (12-11, 3-7), which had its three-game winning streak snapped.

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.

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,” Penn State coach Patrick 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.

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