Payne had his second straight game with more than 20 points, finishing with 24 and 14 rebounds, leading the Spartans to an 85-70 win against Northwestern on Thursday.
"I would honestly have to say I am a little surprised," Izzo said. "He sure has been a monster. He's getting rebounds, I won't say like old times, better than old times."
After his fifth double-double of the season, Payne said his right foot feels as good as at it has in a long time, going as far back as the summer before the season began. So like Izzo, he also is a little bit surprised by his 18.7 scoring average in three games back from injury.
"I didn't know I would come back this strong," he said. "I'm a little surprised and I'm just trying to get the best out of what I can do in a short amount of time."
While the senior forward led the way, the Spartans had six players with at least eight points.
Sophomore guard Denzel Valentine had a career-high 16 points and was 3 of 3 from 3-point range. Gary Harris checked in with 14 points after going 3 of 20 from the field in a loss to Wisconsin and Travis Trice continued his strong play with 11 points and hit three 3-pointers.
In three starts since senior Keith Appling went out with a right wrist injury, Trice has yet to turn the ball over – spanning 102 minutes of playing time.
"I'm just really trying to concentrate on getting other guys involved, making other guys better and winning," Trice said.
The game was tight early in a 19-19 tie about 10 minutes in, but the Spartans began to pull away at that point behind Valentine.
The sophomore found Payne on a no-look pass under the hoop for a resounding dunk and followed it up with an acrobatic tip-in of a missed 3 from Kaminski. After a pair of free throws, Valentine hit a jumper, assisted on a Trice 3-pointer in transition and hit a 3 on a kick out from Payne.
The second half belonged to Payne, as he had 16 points on 4 of 5 shooting and hit 2 of 3 3-pointers.
The senior said his quick start has been keyed by seeing how his team played while he watched from the bench for seven games.
"Just knowing that my team needs me," he said. "They fought while I was out and kept us in the race, so it was my job to come back and try to keep us in the race until we get everybody back and get rolling."
While the Spartans still are down two starters, having Payne back in the lineup has been an instant impact and maybe not such a surprise to everyone.
"I knew he would (play this well," Harris said. "That's A.P. In time, he got fully healthy and you all know how he is when he's fully healthy.
"He's a monster."