Payne scored 17 of his career-high 28 points during a decisive run Monday night as the Bucs pulled away for a 76-61 victory over Savannah State in a non-conference game.
“It felt real good,” Payne said. “We got the ball moving and I got some open shots.
We needed a spark. Whatever the team needs. That’s what I’m there for.”
Payne made 10 of 19 shots, including going 6 of 14 from 3-point range.
“He’s been doing that all fall and I really expected him to do that the other night, they just didn’t go down,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “He’s a really good shooter and he got good looks. I knew against a zone he would get those, and he made them.”
Jason Williams put the nail in the coffin for the Tigers with a 3-point barrage of his own. The sophomore point guard, who didn’t suit up for the first game after suffering a concussion in practice, finished with five 3-pointers and a career-high 15 points.
Williams had eight 3-pointers all of last season.
“He played well,” Forbes said. “He missed a lot of practice right before our first game. He’s a good player and he has a lot of confidence.”
The Bucs trailed 27-25 after David Burrell’s dunk. That began a 27-4 run, fueled by 17 points from Payne, who was doing it with 3-pointers and dunks of his own. Suddenly, the Bucs were up 50-31.
It was a much needed boost. Up to that point, the Bucs were 2 for 15 from 3-point range, meaning they had made 4 of their first 33 attempts this season.
After the decisive run, ETSU cruised home to a comfortable victory.
Payne was in the starting lineup for the season opener at Northern Kentucky, but began this game on the bench.
“I don’t mind,” he said. “As long as I play.”
Payne’s previous career high was 19 points against The Citadel last season. When he threw down a dunk with a defender in his face to give the Bucs a 31-27 lead, the P.A. announcer called it an “emphatic layup.”
Burrell had 12 rebounds to lead ETSU. Desonta Bradford had 10 points and 10 rebounds and was two assists shy of a triple-double. He also had six turnovers.
Savannah State, which made the most 3-pointers in the country last year, went 7 for 33 from long range. The Tigers made their first three to grab a 9-0 lead before Forbes called a timeout.
Austin Dasent led the Tigers with 12 points.
The Bucs finished 11 of 35 on 3-pointers.
“I thought we defended well,” Forbes said. “We got back. The thing I was happiest was that we held them to 61 points in their place. I was worried about this game.”
ETSU turned the ball over 20 times for the second game in a row.
Hanner Mosquera-Perea, who led ETSU to the Southern Conference championship last season, has been activated by the Westchester Knicks of the NBA G League, formerly the D League.
Mosquera-Perea will team with former Tennessee player Devon Baulkman in Westchester. Also on the Knicks’ roster is Ron Baker, a point guard who Forbes coached while at Wichita State.
The Bucs’ three-game road swing continues Friday night when they play at Kentucky.