With Dawson leading, MSU guts out victory over Georgia
Charlotte, N.C. — Branden Dawson found himself in an uncomfortable position Friday afternoon — sitting on the bench in the first half watching Michigan State play Georgia in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
With 14 minutes, 35 seconds left in the half, Dawson committed his second foul and headed to the bench. He was 0-for-1, had no points and no rebounds.
"I told myself I'm a senior and my team needs me," Dawson said. "I had to step up."
And he did just that, scoring 14, grabbing six rebounds and blocking two shots in the second half to spark Michigan State to a 70-63 victory.
Michigan State advances to face Virginia, which held on to beat Belmont.
"In the second half he did (play well)," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "He forgot the first half, but in the second half he did and he did a very good job. He got some big rebounds, we went to him inside, he made a couple of free throws."
While Dawson sat most of the first half and picked up his third foul two minutes into the second, the Spartans still managed to lead 35-22 at halftime. Michigan State had a 10-0 run early to take a 20-14 lead and closed with an 8-0 run, sparked by 3-pointers from Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice.
Georgia outscored Michigan State, 15-4, to open the second half to cut its deficit to two.
That's when Dawson started taking control.
After Bryn Forbes hit a short jumper, Dawson completed a three-point play to give the Spartans a 44-37 lead and converted on another to extend the lead to 47-39. He added another jumper a minute later, and after Forbes completed a four-point play — he was fouled making a 3-pointer — the Michigan State lead was 52-41.
The Spartans eventually went up 60-47 after another Dawson basket before the Bulldogs put together one last run.
But Dawson had a late block and Valentine made six straight free throws to put the game away.
"We just never stopped fighting," Dawson said. "We've been in this position plenty of times when we had a big lead and let a team come back. In the second half we just stayed poised as a team. They had their run and we made ours."
Valentine led Michigan State with 16 points, Trice added 15 and Forbes chipped in 14.
Charles Mann scored 19 for Georgia, Kenny Gaines had 15 and Marcus Thornton added 12.
"We just had to play uphill," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "We had a very good start and then we burped there for a minute in the first half and we had to play uphill, which is so hard to do."
It was hardly pretty for the Spartans, but they're convinced all the close calls will help.
"We survived and we're advancing," Izzo said. "It's going to get tougher each game but I think we learned something from the past games. Hopefully we'll keep moving forward here."
Georgia had its issues turning the ball over, recording 10 in the first half alone, but it was dominant on the glass and did a good job getting to the free-throw line.
The Bulldogs outrebounded the Spartans, 43-35, and were 21-for-26 from the line.
"You go in there with a game plan and so what is the first thing you put?" Izzo said. "You defend without fouling. We can't let them go to the free-throw line 25 times. And we didn't. They went 26 times. Then we said the rebounding and without (Dawson), for us to lose it by eight is not good but it's not off the charts.
"I think we did what we do. We had 18 assists on 26 baskets. Our running game won us the game. We got out and they turned the ball over a lot and that is one of their negatives. And I thought we got some fast breaks because of the turnovers."
Michigan State is 14-4 in opening NCAA Tournament games under Izzo and 23-6 overall.
… Izzo is 7-0 against teams from the Southeastern Conference.
… Valentine reached double figures for the first time in an NCAA Tournament game, and his six assists matched a Tournament best.