Skip to content

Branden Dawson leads No. 4 Michigan State past No. 1 Virginia, into the Elite 8

Mar 29, 2014, 12:38 AM EDT

source: Getty Images

Michigan State v Virginia

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Report: SMU big man has work to do to be eligible for season

    Oct 20, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    Markus Kennedy AP

    SMU could be in trouble if a second-team all-league pick is ruled ineligible.

  2. Washington adds two forwards in 2015 class

    Oct 20, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT

    Indian Hills Community College Indian Hills Community College

    Lorenzo Romar now has a six-man recruiting class for 2015.

  3. Top 25 Countdown: No. 15 Oklahoma Sooners

    Oct 20, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

    Buddy Hield (AP Photo) Buddy Hield (AP Photo)

    Oklahoma has a chance to be the second-best team in the Big 12, especially if a key player receives a waiver.

  4. St. Joseph’s loses another front court piece for the 2014-15 season

    Oct 20, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    Phil Martelli AP

    The Hawks will have a thin front court this season.

  5. 2014-2015 Season Preview: Which new coaching hires will succeed?

    Oct 20, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

    Steve Wojciechowski AP

    Five new hires that should thrive, and five who may end up struggling.

  6. Report: Former Oklahoma State guard leaves his junior college

    Oct 20, 2014, 2:09 PM EDT

    Stevie Clark, Jevon Taylor AP

    Stevie Clark was dismissed from Oklahoma State after a pair of bizarre incidents involving the police.

  7. Maryland lands commitment from junior college point guard

    Oct 20, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT

    Mark Turgeon

    Jaylen Brantley is Maryland’s first commitment in the class.

  8. No longer supplementary pieces, two Texans will lead the way at Weber State

    Oct 20, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    Randy Rahe AP

    After riding the coattails of a pair of Californians, Weber State’s focus on recruiting the state of Texas will pay off this season.

  9. Former NBA guard says Emmanuel Mudiay ‘handled himself well’ in first game in China

    Oct 20, 2014, 10:39 AM EDT

    unnamed-1

    Mudiay has now played two preseason games as a professional.

  10. 2014-2015 Season Preview: Weber State won’t lack for challengers in Big Sky

    Oct 20, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

    Weber State's Joel Bolomboy (AP Photo) AP

    Weber State will be the preseason favorites, but Northern Arizona, Sacramento State and Eastern Washington will lead a group of challengers capable of pushing the reigning champs.

  11. Highlights from San Francisco’s ‘Hilltop Hoopsfest’ event (VIDEO)

    Oct 19, 2014, 10:57 PM EDT

    Rex Walters AP

    Junior forward Mark Tollefsen may be one of the best dunkers in America.

  12. Louisville takes next step in season preparations with their annual Red-White Scrimmage

    Oct 19, 2014, 8:49 PM EDT

    Chris Jones, Dillon Avare Chris Jones, Dillon Avare

    Chris Jones’ three-pointer in the final seconds gave the White team a 75-72 win over the Red.

  13. Fractured foot to sideline Maryland forward 4-6 weeks

    Oct 19, 2014, 6:59 PM EDT

    Evan Smotrycz AP

    Evan Smotrycz was re-evaluated Saturday after suffering the injury at the end of practice Friday.

  14. Durand Johnson returns in Pittsburgh’s Blue-Gold Scrimmage

    Oct 19, 2014, 6:36 PM EDT

    Durand Johnson, Zach Gordon Durand Johnson, Zach Gordon

    Johnson last played in live action on January 11, when he suffered a torn ACL in the Panthers’ loss to Virginia.

  15. 6-foot-10 center verbally commits to Colorado State

    Oct 19, 2014, 4:42 PM EDT

    Larry Eustachy Larry Eustachy

    With three of their five seniors being front court players, Colorado State needs to add depth ahead of the 2015-16 season. Sunday’s commitment will help in this area.

  16. Led by senior forward Alan Williams, UCSB capable of earning first NCAA tournament bid since 2011

    Oct 19, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

    UCSB's Alan Williams (AP Photo) AP

    Alan Williams gets most of the attention nationally, but he won’t be alone as the Gauchos look to rebound from last year’s disappointing finish.

  17. La Salle gets commitment from 2015 guard

    Oct 19, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    Wichita St. v La Salle Getty Images

    La Salle nabbed a talented combo guard.