It looked like it would be in easy fashion, but a furious Ohio State comeback to erase a 17-point lead forced overtime for MSU to take down the Buckeyes 72-68.
To get to that point – and to stake off the finish to a collapse – it took a valiant effort from the pair Michigan State seniors.
"To lose a lead like that, it's hard to feel good about," coach Tom Izzo said. "I think I'll find some solace in that fact that my seniors were warriors. It says something about a team to lose a 17-point lead then bounce back and win it. I think that takes some character. …
"When it's over, I'm going to say heroic effort by our seniors."
Appling, who Izzo said was dealing with cramps in both legs, led the Spartans with 20 and had the final six points in overtime. None were bigger than his 3-pointer to break a 66-66 tie with less than 30 seconds left.
"I work on that shot everyday," said Appling, who added his calves were cramping from late in the first half on. "The moment it left my hands, I felt like it was going in."
But it was the performance of Payne that was most unexpected as he wasn't expected to play late in the afternoon.
The senior forward, who had been suffering from plantar fasciitis, hurt his foot and wasn't sure he could play after shoot around.
"When he was out shooting with our guys earlier and I walked in and, to be honest with you, he was in tears," Izzo said.
Payne decided he could go, though, after seeing how emotional Izzo was.
"Once I got down here, I could tell coach was emotional and you could just tell that he was worried a little bit about what was going on with my foot," Payne said. "I just told him, ‘I'm going to give it a shot.'"
Fortunately for the Spartans, Payne toughed out 32 minutes and had 18 points and six rebounds.
He fueled a big second-half run that extended the Spartans' lead from five to 17 with a pair of thunderous putback dunks.
With the Spartans running away with the game, No. 3 Ohio State fought back – led by Sam Thompson – to force overtime with a 20-3 run in the final seven minutes.
With 1:34 left, Appling was called for charge outside the 3-point line. Ohio State missed a pair of shots and Gary Harris recovered the loose ball, but tried to pass it and Aaron Craft dove on it and called timeout with 1:01 left.
Craft hit a layup off a quick inbound play to pull the Buckeyes within one.
Payne hit a free throw to put the lead back to two, but Amir Williams slammed home a Craft missed layup.
With the shot clock expired, Appling turned the ball over and Shannon Scott went racing down the court, but Appling helped force a missed layup and the game headed for overtime, where the Spartans took control and knocked off the Buckeyes behind three 3-pointers.
Appling said it was the shots hit by Payne and Kenny Kaminski, who chipped in nine points, that keyed MSU.
"Adreian and Kenny, they made some big plays for us which really kind of shifted momentum toward our side and we kind of rolled that on out," he said.
The momentum wasn't easily returned to a team that had given up a big lead with seven minutes left, but it left Izzo thinking that maybe tomorrow the win will feel a little bit better.
"Hopefully by tomorrow, I'm gonna say, you know what, 30 some minutes we played pretty good, a couple minutes of the overtime we played good, but number one we ran into a very good team," Izzo said. "I think I'll appreciate the win more tomorrow. It ain't gonna be tonight though. It's not gonna be tonight."