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.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:43 PM EDT
The second team All-MAC selection scored eight points in Senegal’s win over Puerto Rico.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:25 PM EDT
Bruce Weber now has three verbal commitments in the Class of 2015.
Aug 31, 2014, 9:05 PM EDT
5-foot-11 point guard Glynn Watson becomes Nebraska’s second 2015 commitment.
Aug 31, 2014, 8:02 PM EDT
Slender forward Brandon Ingram is one of the best perimeter prospects in the Class of 2015.
Aug 31, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
Tennessee is on the board in 2015 due to the addition of a versatile 6-foot-5 forward.
Aug 31, 2014, 5:23 PM EDT
Roy Williams challenged his players in the Bahamas, and the accepted it on Saturday afternoon.
Aug 31, 2014, 3:39 PM EDT
Malik Newman is the No. 3 overall recruit, according to Rivals.
Aug 31, 2014, 1:35 PM EDT
The Robinson brothers are the first two commits in Quinnipiac’s Class of 2015.
Aug 31, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
The Cougars have been without a head coach since Aug. 5.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:17 AM EDT
Bruce Pearl has landed five commitments in 10 days.
Aug 31, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
More dunks from one of the best all-star games of the summer.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
Connor McCaffery was expected to play for his father, and he announced the intention to do so Saturday.
Aug 30, 2014, 9:57 PM EDT
The Floridian averaged 26 points per game as a high school junior.
Aug 30, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Yanick Moreira missed time last season due to injury, so this month could prove incredibly valuable for both he and the SMU program he’ll rejoin.
Aug 30, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT
Providence is looking to reach consecutive NCAA tournaments for the first time since the 1989 and 1990 seasons.
Aug 30, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Franklin Edmond averaged 18.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as a freshman.
Aug 30, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
After a big recruiting week for Auburn, two players from the current roster are leaving the program.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Cincinnati has some tough opponents in the non-conference portion of the 2014-15 schedule.
Aug 30, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Utah State returns a veteran locker-room presence.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Providence added another piece for the 2014-15 season late this week.
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- College Basketball Talk’s Recruiting Roundup 0
- Former Michigan center discusses hasty departure for the NBA (VIDEO) 0
- Five-star 2015 center trims list to five 1
- College of Charleston coaching search takes another turn 0
- Rivals releases new rankings for the Class of 2015 0
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- DePaul’s Purnell loses fifth recruit that signed letter of intent (3)
- Former Ole Miss star Marshall Henderson getting pro tryout in Italy (2)
- Will Bill Self and Kansas play small-ball this season? (2)
- Report: Ex-Spartan forward headed to Ohio (1)
- Blue Ribbon releases their Preseason First Team All-Americans (1)