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.
California wins at Washington thanks to Sam Singer’s three-pointer with four seconds remaining (VIDEO)
Feb 1, 2015, 8:15 PM EST
Sam Singer’s made just five three-pointers this season, with the biggest one coming in the final seconds of their game at Washington on Sunday.
Feb 1, 2015, 7:22 PM EST
Marcus Thornton, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, missed Saturday’s loss at South Carolina after suffering a concussion last Tuesday.
Feb 1, 2015, 6:02 PM EST
Both Cincinnati and UConn dropped conference games on the road as well.
Feb 1, 2015, 4:45 PM EST
Michigan point guard Derrick Walton Jr. will miss even more time with a foot injury.
Feb 1, 2015, 2:45 PM EST
Florida State had a rough start, but managed to rally and knock off in-state rival Miami.
Feb 1, 2015, 1:15 PM EST
Duke’s road win at Virginia was one of the most shocking results of the college basketball season.
Feb 1, 2015, 12:15 PM EST
Missouri has more issues off-the-floor as a freshman guard is suspended.
Feb 1, 2015, 11:15 AM EST
Holy Cross senior forward Malcolm Miller makes a case for the college dunk contest in a new video.
The end of the Division II Drury/Quincy game is one of the best college basketball finishes of the year (VIDEO)
Feb 1, 2015, 10:00 AM EST
The ending to a college basketball game doesn’t get much better than this.
Feb 1, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
With the impending football game, not a lot of college hoops on Sunday.
Jan 31, 2015, 11:43 PM EST
Andrew Papenfus made his season debut for the Broncos Saturday night, just over three months after a benign tumor was removed from his brain.
Jan 31, 2015, 10:42 PM EST
Kendall Anthony scored 20 points in the second half to lead Richmond to the 64-55 win, but the status of Weber is VCU’s greatest concern.
Jan 31, 2015, 9:03 PM EST
No. 4 Duke lands a stunning, come-from-behind win over No. 2 Virginia.
Jan 31, 2015, 8:31 PM EST
In the midst of Louisville’s comeback from an 18-point deficit, Montrezl Harrell showed why he’s considered to be one of the best athletes in college basketball.
Jan 31, 2015, 8:02 PM EST
Louisville outscored North Carolina by 16 from the foul line and by 15 in second-chance points, which helped them erase an 18-point second half deficit.
Jan 31, 2015, 7:10 PM EST
Also of note Saturday afternoon was No. 18 Northern Iowa rolling past No. 12 Wichita State.
Jan 31, 2015, 6:39 PM EST
UNI went on a 22-6 run over a ten-plus minute stretch as they moved into a tie for first in the Missouri Valley.
Jan 31, 2015, 3:11 PM EST
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame see comeback fall short at Pitt.
Jan 31, 2015, 2:34 PM EST
Trevor Lacey makes one of the best buzzer-beaters of the season to give N.C. State a road win at Georgia Tech.
Jan 31, 2015, 1:45 PM EST
Florida’s Alex Murphy with a nominee for Saturday’s dunk of the day.
- Why Duke’s road win at Virginia was so shocking 3
- Briante Weber suffers season-ending knee injury in No. 14 VCU’s loss to Richmond 0
- No. 4 Duke ends No. 2 Virginia’s unbeaten season 1
- Foul line, offensive rebounding aid No. 13 Louisville’s comeback effort 0
- Saturday’s Snacks: No. 4 Duke rebounds to beat No. 2 Virginia, and No. 8 Notre Dame falls 0
- No. 8 Notre Dame upset by Pitt 1
- Auburn coach Bruce Pearl greeted with cheers during first return to Tennessee (VIDEO) 2
- Duke dismisses reserve shooting guard from program (13)
- Bill Self on the loss of Kansas-Missouri rivalry: ‘It hasn’t been great’ (8)
- Jerian Grant, No. 8 Notre Dame erase another double-digit deficit as they beat No. 4 Duke (7)
- Wichita State guard Conner Frankamp arrested on Saturday night (4)
- Jerian Grant turns back fans trying to storm the floor after Duke win (GIF) (4)