His impact on the team and players around him is undeniable, but his absence might have had an even greater impact on sophomore Matt Costello.
The center was left needing to play a bigger role as Payne missed seven games.
"I definitely was kind of forced to (grow and play better)," he said. "We probably would have lost a couple more games."
It wasn't a quick step for Costello, who had missed four games with a case of mononucleosis in December. When he returned, he averaged just 13 minutes in three games with Payne in the lineup, having just two points and five rebounds total.
The minutes being an issue, he focused on his conditioning and that became more important when Payne went out before the Spartans beat Minnesota 87-75 in overtime.
"I was just running extra and trying to push myself harder in practice," Costello said.
He upped his minutes, even though he said he wasn't at 100 percent until a week or two ago.
"It was tough," Costello said. "I had to do more in a shorter time than I wanted to, but it's probably helped me for now to be a better player so I'm happy about that."
Being back at health, the sophomore has started to hit his stride of late. He is averaging 8.2 points and six rebounds per game in his past five, with his first career double-double at Iowa with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
"I think Costello has started to build up," coach Tom Izzo said. "He is starting to make a difference – definitely defensively."
Now that Payne is back in the lineup, Izzo is excited for the possibility to see more of the pair playing together.
"With both Costello and Adreian in there, it will at least give us some semblance of what we are going to be down the stretch," he said. "I think those two guys have to learn again how to play together."
Costello said he is looking to take what he worked on while Payne was out and start building on it with him in the lineup.
"Just take what I've learned and try to take control in the low post and take that into next year," he said. "That's something I've gotta build on, but the confidence is there right now."
The first goal: Prove opponents who say MSU doesn't have an inside threat wrong.
"I do take it personally," he said. "It's annoying when people say that because I feel like I can score in the post and do things in the post, but I haven't shown it so why would they think any differently.
"I've gotta make it known and see where I can go from there."