Mar 29, 2014, 12:38 AM EST
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.
Mar 1, 2015, 2:00 PM EST
Michigan point guard Spike Albrecht has been battling a hip injury this season.
Mar 1, 2015, 12:45 PM EST
Maryland might miss Michal Cekovsky for some time after the freshman big man was injured during warm-ups on Saturday.
Mar 1, 2015, 11:30 AM EST
Kaelon Wilson put it on a defender on Saturday.
Mar 1, 2015, 10:15 AM EST
Kansas State picked up a Class of 2015 guard commitment on Sunday.
Mar 1, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
A quiet Sunday features some bubble teams clashing.
Late Night Snacks: No. 7 Arizona, No. 11 Wichita State and No. 19 Baylor among Saturday’s big winners
Mar 1, 2015, 2:11 AM EST
No. 1 Kentucky moved to 29-0, and No. 6 Villanova came back to win at Xavier.
Mar 1, 2015, 1:18 AM EST
Will the Zags even stay out west?
Mar 1, 2015, 12:43 AM EST
In a game that saw both teams struggle to find their rhythm, “Zeus” and Gabe York came up big for Arizona.
Bubble Banter: Boise State, St. John’s, Dayton win the day; Texas, N.C. State lose; and Kansas State?
Mar 1, 2015, 12:27 AM EST
All the bubble winners and losers from Saturday’s college hoops action.
Feb 28, 2015, 10:58 PM EST
This came close to being really, really bad.
Feb 28, 2015, 10:25 PM EST
Dwayne Polee II had to sit out Saturday’s loss to Boise State as a result of an abnormal reading generated by his cardiac monitor.
Feb 28, 2015, 7:42 PM EST
With the loss Texas drops to 1-11 in games against teams in the RPI Top 50.
Feb 28, 2015, 7:03 PM EST
The Cyclones lost at home against Baylor and then lost at Kansas State.
Feb 28, 2015, 7:01 PM EST
Kentucky has now won 46 SEC titles, and this group looks poised to add more hardware to the trophy case before the season concludes.
Feb 28, 2015, 5:13 PM EST
Having just seven scholarship players hasn’t kept the Flyers from playing a major role in the Atlantic 10 race.
Feb 28, 2015, 4:48 PM EST
The Shockers are once again champions of the Valley.
Feb 28, 2015, 3:45 PM EST
Kansas will be without Cliff Alexander against Texas on Saturday.
Feb 28, 2015, 1:55 PM EST
Jake Layman didn’t want to get dunked on.
Feb 28, 2015, 12:21 PM EST
Robbie Berwick is not going to like seeing this highlight.
Feb 28, 2015, 11:15 AM EST
Auburn will be without second-leading scorer Antoine Mason as he deals with the death of his father.
- Late Night Snacks: No. 7 Arizona, No. 11 Wichita State and No. 19 Baylor among Saturday’s big winners 1
- Did Gonzaga cost themselves a No. 1 seed with loss to BYU? 5
- Kaleb Tarczewski produces another quality outing as No. 7 Arizona beats No. 13 Utah 0
- Bubble Banter: Boise State, St. John’s, Dayton win the day; Texas, N.C. State lose; and Kansas State? 3
- No. 1 Kentucky moves to 29-0 with blowout win over No. 18 Arkansas 2
- No. 11 Wichita State wins the Missouri Valley by knocking off No. 10 Northern Iowa 1
- NCAA tournament berth the final step for St. John’s senior class 0
- Report: Former Louisville guard Chris Jones charged with rape, sodomy (12)
- You Make the Call: Was Texas guard Isaiah Taylor fouled on this drive? (12)
- Roy Williams calls out North Carolina fans following win over Georgia Tech (11)
- Bill Self crushed, Jamari Traylor targeted during Kansas State court storm (VIDEO) (11)
- Dez Wells, Melo Trimble lead No. 14 Maryland to upset of No. 5 Wisconsin (9)