Mar 29, 2014, 12:38 AM EDT
NEW YORK — Branden Dawson was on track to be the next Michigan State star when he arrived in East Lansing back in 2011. He was a five-star prospect, a top 20 recruit that Tom Izzo pulled out of Gary, IN. After an ACL injury at the end of his freshman season limited his development heading into his sophomore campaign, this year, his junior year, was supposed to be his time to shine.
Only … it wasn’t.
At times dominant and at times non-existent in the early part of the season, Dawson found himself struggling early on in Big Ten play when he broke a bone in his right hand, an injury that sent the Michigan State season into a tailspin. He missed nine games. The Spartans lost five of them, losing two of the first three games after he was able to return to the floor.
Something changed at the start of Big Ten play. After nearly three seasons of struggling to live up to the expectations that he had as a high schooler, Dawson’s turned in the best two weeks of basketball of his career. He averaged 15.0 points and 7.3 boards in three wins in Michigan State’s Big Ten tournament title run, and it didn’t stop there.
Dawson went for 24 points and 10 boards to lead No. 4 Michigan State to a 61-59 win over No. 1 Virginia in Friday night’s second East Regional semifinal. The Spartans will advance to face No. 7 seed UConn on Sunday, as the Huskies knocked off No. 3 Iowa State in the opener.
Dawson’s performance followed up the 26 points and nine boards he had as the Spartans held off No. 12 Harvard in the Round of 32. All told, since the start of tournament play, Dawson is averaging 17.5 points and 8.2 boards while shooting 69.7% from the field.
“I’m thinking about going and breaking my hand with the way that he’s playing right now,” junior guard Travis Trice said, chickling, after the game.
Dawson’s physicality and raw athleticism was a difference-maker for the Spartans, as he finished a handful of dunks around the rim in traffic. Virginia’s defense is as tough as any in the country, which is why Dawson’s play was so important. The Cavaliers had Michigan State scouted to perfection — as senior point guard Keith Appling put it, “Man, it was almost like they do every single play. They do where the ball was going before it got there.” — which limited what the Spartans were going to be able to get off of their sets.
In other words, as cliche as it may sound, the Spartans needed their playmakers to make plays, and Dawson played a vital role in the two most important buckets of the game.
Midway through the second half, after Michigan State had scored a pair of back-to-back buckets, Trice was able to leak out, getting himself free for one of the Spartan’s lone transition buckets: a deep, but open, three off the dribble on a 1-on-2 “break”. It capped a 7-0 spurt and came in the middle of a 13-2 run that turned a four-point deficit into a 49-42 lead. But the reason that Trice was able to get that shot was that Dawson corralled a rebound in the middle of three Virginia players, sparking the break with a perfect outlet.
“I’m happy got the rebound because I leaked out,” Trice said.
Virginia made their run, tying the game at 51 with less than two minutes left, but the Spartans responded. After Adreian Payne buried a three to put the Spartans up 54-51, he came back on the next possession and threw an alley-oop to Dawson, a pass that wasn’t exactly expected, as Dawson tells it.
“Honeslty I didn’t know Adreian Payne was going to throw it,” Dawson said with a laugh. “I just went up and caught the ball and tried to dunk it.”
The bucket put the Spartans up 56-51 and Virginia wouldn’t get the ball with a chance to tie the game again until there were just 1.4 seconds left on the clock.
Michigan State moves on, thanks to Dawson, and they’ll play Sunday for the right to play in the program’s first Final Four since 2010.
Sep 15, 2014, 10:33 PM EDT
Five-star shooting guard Antonio Blakeney has opened it back up.
Sep 15, 2014, 10:22 PM EDT
The Bearcats added a 2015 recruit on Monday night.
Sep 15, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
Kansas begins a two-week Boot Camp today.
Sep 15, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Shaquille Johnson is in trouble at his new home.
Sep 15, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
Things are getting interesting between the Pitinos as we get closer to the Minnesota and Louisville game.
Sep 15, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Florida International had some bad luck over the weekend.
Sep 15, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Charlotte head coach Alan Major has returned to the team.
CBT’s Recruiting Roundup: UConn and Arizona land 2015 big men, 2015 commitments flying off the board
Sep 15, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
News and notes from around the world of college basketball recruiting.
Sep 15, 2014, 4:10 PM EDT
Brown is a 6-foot-7 powerhouse that has drawn some comparisons to Stanley Johnson.
Sep 15, 2014, 2:45 PM EDT
It’s the second recruit UCLA has lost this week.
Sep 15, 2014, 1:55 PM EDT
The NCAA is trying to improve their ability to apply common sense to rules interpretations.
Sep 15, 2014, 1:02 PM EDT
They’ll be out there for six full days. To get tickets to watch a practice.
Sep 15, 2014, 12:32 PM EDT
Avery Harriman continues his third battle with leukemia.
Sep 15, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT
It was less a shot at Coach K than it was a shot at USA Basketball.
Sep 15, 2014, 11:03 AM EDT
The best players in the D.C. area competed at DMVElite 80 over the weekend.
Sep 14, 2014, 11:59 PM EDT
Of Wyoming’s five 2015 verbal commitments, three have come from Florida natives.
Sep 14, 2014, 10:08 PM EDT
The Tabor Academy forward picked Fordham over offers from Duquesne, Quinnipiac and Saint Joseph’s.
Sep 14, 2014, 8:47 PM EDT
With Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks both being seniors, this is an important addition for the Broncos.
Sep 14, 2014, 7:50 PM EDT
The Roselle Catholic (New Jersey) product is expected pick from Rhode Island, Seton Hall and South Carolina.
Sep 14, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
Playing with an all-star team this summer helped the Arkansas transfer shake off the rust accumulated during his season on the sidelines.
- Five-star shooting guard Antonio Blakeney decommits from Louisville 0
- CBT’s Recruiting Roundup: UConn and Arizona land 2015 big men, 2015 commitments flying off the board 0
- USA Basketball, Mike Krzyzewski and thoughts on today’s ‘takedown’ 2
- Arizona lands four-star center to potential No. 1 recruiting class in 2015 0
- Allen Iverson, Georgetown legends return to campus for new John Thompson practice facility 3
- In-state power forward verbally commits to UConn 0
- Former Indiana guard A.J. Guyton writes an open letter to Bob Knight 6
- Former Indiana guard A.J. Guyton writes an open letter to Bob Knight (6)
- Four-star power forward becomes Indiana’s first 2015 commitment (3)
- Arizona State commit arrested for allegedly shoplifting less than $20 in DVDs from Walmart (3)
- Allen Iverson, Georgetown legends return to campus for new John Thompson practice facility (3)
- Villanova lands commitment from five-star point guard Jalen Brunson (2)