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.
The Spartans went on an 11-0 run to take a 22-8 lead. A 3-pointer by Kaminski made it 35-16, and the Nittany Lions never threatened.
Matt Costello capped the first half with a dunk while being fouled with 12 seconds left. His three-point play gave Michigan State a 46-30 lead.
It was 61-44 after Kaminski's 3-pointer from near the top of the key banked in off the glass, and a 3-pointer by Gary Harris pushed the lead to 20.
Kaminski went 7 of 9 from the field, 5 of 6 from 3-point range. That enabled the Spartans to withstand Appling's absence and 5-for-16 shooting by Harris.
Denzel Valentine had a big game for Michigan State with 11 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and four steals.
"Early in the game he was, I guess I'd say out of control there," Izzo said. "We took him out and settled him down a little bit, and then I thought he played phenomenal."
Michigan State has won 20 games for the 14th time in the last 17 seasons.
Frazier needed two assists to set Penn State's career record, but he only managed one, tying the mark of 600 by Freddie Barnes. Frazier went 9 of 14 from the field and 3 for 4 from 3-point range. The rest of the team was 2 for 18 from beyond the arc.
Penn State's D.J. Newbill scored 17 points but missed all seven of his attempts from 3-point range.