Branden Dawson finally finding consistency
East Lansing — It was never a big mystery entering this season, but Michigan State likely will go as far as Branden Dawson can take them.
That's not to say Michigan State doesn't need contributions from others, but Thursday's 75-61 victory over Iowa was the latest example of how important the senior is to the team's success.
And more importantly for Tom Izzo and the Spartans, it could be a sign the consistency that has eluded Dawson throughout his career is closer to becoming realized.
"I thought Dawson, for him to play 36 minutes as hard as he played and rebound ..." Izzo said. "He had rebounds above the rim and he missed some shots inside or he could have had an even more monster night. But he's becoming more of the Branden Dawson (we need). He's guarding on one end, he's running on the break a little bit where he's just doing some things."
Those things amounted to 14 points and 15 rebounds. And while much of the attention from the victory focused on Travis Trice's 25 points (7of-8 on 3-pointers) and a gutty performance from an under-the-weather Denzel Valentine, it was Dawson who was the underlying force.
He was the catalyst early, scoring eight of his 14 points in the first half, and again was solid on defense. He was tasked with guarding Iowa's Aaron White, who was averaging 16.5 points and 7.4 rebounds.
White finished with eight points and four rebounds, and took four shots.
"He didn't seem to get going early," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of White. "He didn't seem to have his usual energy level. If you remember, we took him out early. We never take him out that early. We just wanted him to settle down, relax. … We put him back in, and he was a little better, but he certainly wasn't himself."
It was the second straight impressive defensive effort from Dawson, who shut down Indiana's Troy Williams on Monday.
"(White) does everything for those guys, so I just stayed solid on him," Dawson said. "He's been getting to the free-throw line eight, nine times a game, so I just had to stay solid.
"I'm a senior and that's what everyone expects. Denzel, Travis, those guys picked it up, but I just kept telling myself to keep playing hard. Those couple of times I came down and was tired, but I just keep telling myself to keep going, keep fighting."
That fight has Michigan State (11-5, 2-1 Big Ten) on a two-game winning streak after losing the conference opener in double overtime to No. 11 Maryland. Dawson was just returning from that game after missing two with a broken wrist.
He's managed to excel the last two games with a brace on his wrist that is still causing problems, but one Dawson hopes to lose soon, maybe even by Sunday's home game against Northwestern.
"He still has some trouble," Izzo said. "You see he's catching everything with one hand and he had four turnovers and three of them were probably baskets because he doesn't feel comfortable going with that left hand. He took his brace off he was so upset and we made him put that back on. So we gotta live with that."
While Dawson admitted the brace is bothering him, it hasn't hurt his production. He had 14 points and 13 rebounds against Indiana before Thursday's performance.
And if the Spartans are to close the week out strong and contend in the Big Ten, those numbers will have to become the norm.
"He's got so much more to give," Izzo said. "I gave him credit and now I'm gonna be harder on him because he's starting to figure out, 'You know what, I can suck it up, I can play through some things.' "
Northwestern at Michigan State
Tip-off: Noon Sunday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
Records: Northwestern 10-5 (1-1 Big Ten), Michigan State 11-5 (2-1)
Outlook: Michigan State defeated Northwestern three times last season. … The Wildcats have not played this week while Sunday will be the third game of the week for the Spartans. … Northwestern is allowing 60.3 points a game.