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 1, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
Pitt bolsters its backcourt with the late addition of a junior college guard.
Sep 1, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
Conference realignment is still happening at the lower levels as Coastal Carolina makes a move to the Sun Belt.
Sep 1, 2015, 9:05 AM EDT
Shamorie Ponds is one of the best bucket-getting guards in the 2016 class.
Aug 31, 2015, 11:15 PM EDT
Malik Monk is rated No. 6 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals.
Aug 31, 2015, 9:44 PM EDT
It’s the second commit in as many nights for the Cyclones.
Aug 31, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Javion Ogunyemi averaged 9.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in 2014-15.
Aug 31, 2015, 6:10 PM EDT
The two teams last met in the 2013 Big East Tournament
Aug 31, 2015, 4:44 PM EDT
Indiana dismissed the forward after his second alcohol-related incident.
Aug 31, 2015, 4:35 PM EDT
Cheick Diallo is still waiting to hear from the NCAA Eligibility Center.
Aug 31, 2015, 2:05 PM EDT
Frank Jackson will make his college decision on Tuesday.
Aug 31, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
Rawle Alkins is one of the best players to come out of New York in years.
Aug 31, 2015, 11:20 AM EDT
Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan seems to be taking things slowly when it comes to deciding his future.
Aug 31, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Texas native Marques Bolden is focusing on seven schools.
Aug 31, 2015, 9:05 AM EDT
Rick Pitino gives some candid thoughts on Louisville and Puerto Rico.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:52 PM EDT
With Monte’ Morris being a junior and Nick Noskowiak leaving the program, Iowa State needed a point guard in the 2016 class.
Aug 30, 2015, 8:41 PM EDT
These games against seasoned competition will help Michigan State in the tough Big Ten this season.
Aug 30, 2015, 7:27 PM EDT
Gbinije averaged 7.3 points and 2.1 rebounds per game at Afrobasket.
Aug 30, 2015, 6:01 PM EDT
Hill led the team in minutes played last season, and it’s been tough to keep him out of the gym this summer despite attempts to get him to spend some time resting.
Aug 30, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
Notre Dame has a bouncy freshman guard in Rex Pflueger.
Aug 30, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT
Reid Travis is looking like a potential go-to scorer for the Cardinal this season after some strong outings in Europe.
- Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan makes another statement wavering on potential retirement 0
- Cody Zeller, Indiana president speak out against recent athlete legal issues 0
- Five-star 2016 combo guard cuts list to four 0
- Xavier, Mount St. Joseph to launch the ‘Lauren Hill Tip-Off Classic’ 0
- Tai Wynyard: ‘I will be coming to UK in December’ 0
- Tom Izzo, 30 second shot clocks, and why zone presses will be more popular this year 1
- Kentucky lands a commitment from four-star 2016 forward 0
- Blue Ribbon announces their preseason all-american team (3)
- Syracuse legend to undergo surgery on a brain tumor this week (2)
- Wake Forest dismissed senior point guard for rules violation (1)
- Is Louisville’s non-conference schedule weak by design? (1)
- 10 year old Ohio State fan worried heart surgery would make him love Michigan (1)