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Michigan State's Payne starting to look like his old self

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- At times, he looked exactly the same, especially when he elevated to take a jump shot or snatch a rebound.

At others, Adreian Payne seemed to be dragging his right leg across the floor with a fair measure of trepidation.

"Yeah, I think it's a mental thing," the Michigan State senior forward said Tuesday after his first full-contact practice in about a month. "Running on a treadmill and straight line, I'm really good. I'm just trying to get better at mentally trusting my foot going side-to-side."

The public will get to see how he has progressed by Thursday. After missing seven straight games with a sprained right foot that developed after a long bout with plantar fasciitis, Payne is expected to play when No.9 MSU (19-3, 8-1 Big Ten) hosts Penn State (12-10, 3-6).

He'll play unless another setback occurs before game time. As long as Payne can go, MSU coach Tom Izzo won't be shy about testing him.

A trip to Wisconsin is coming Sunday, and the Spartans are running out of time to get all their pieces working together. The last will be Branden Dawson (broken hand), out for at least three more weeks.

"I'm not going to try to beat Adreian to death, but I am going to -- I mean, he is a horse worth riding," Izzo said. "So we are going to ride Adreian a little bit and see what he can get out of him within the framework of what our medical people think and what he says."

Payne says he's ready, though he did sit out the last portion of Tuesday's practice after checking his foot, later explaining that he "likes to make sure everything's right."

Payne scored 18 points in his last outing, a Jan.7 win over Ohio State, despite being all but ruled out before the game because of the foot. MSU was 5-2 in his absence, losing a tight home game to Michigan and a Saturday matchup against Georgetown at Madison Square Garden.

"Even though I was coming to practice and helping out with the players, I just felt like I was like a ghost," Payne said. "You know, like I see myself out there but I'm not out there doing anything."

There's plenty for him to do now, bringing his 16.2 points and 7.7 rebounds -- both second on the team -- back to the floor. MSU's lack of a post presence on offense has been glaring, and his length has been missed at times on defense.

"It's gonna change a lot, actually," MSU sophomore guard Denzel Valentine said of Payne's return. "That All-American post presence frees up guys on the perimeter."

And it gives MSU 80percent of its starting lineup. Dawson is next. He'll start running today.

"We're going to start a massive campaign to get him in the best shape of his life," Izzo said of Dawson.

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