Nothing came easy for MSU Friday night as they upset No. 1 University of Virginia, 61-59, in one of the Spartans’ hardest fought victories of the year.
Tom Izzo’s team lost the turnover and rebounding battles, but managed to pull out a win thanks in large part to Branden Dawson who recorded a double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds.
When asked about Dawson after the game, Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said, “I can see why without him (Michigan State) is good and with him they are really good.”
Michigan State jumped out to a 21-11 lead in the first half with Adreian Payne contributing seven of the Spartans first 10 points. Virginia responded with a 14-2 run to pull even in the closing minutes of the half. MSU finished the half leading 31-27.
With Gary Harris in foul trouble in the first half and most of the game, Dawson carried the load for Michigan State and had 11 points to go with five boards in the period.
The Cavaliers defense settled in to start the second half, forcing five turnovers in the first eight minutes. Virginia forced several MSU droughts throughout the game, but never led by more than four in the contest.
Virginia had their biggest lead with about 12 minutes left in the game when Michigan State went on a 7-0 run that got the Spartans back in it. The burst was capped by a Travis Trice three in transition to regain the lead.
“He’s our sixth man by far,” Izzo said. “I think if he hadn’t had to start because of some injuries he could have been the sixth man of the league.”
Trice finished with five points and two steals.
Michigan State grew the lead to seven with just under 5:30 to play, but the Cavs once again came back to tie the game with 1:49 to play. Virginia then played the foul game and were within one point in the final 10 seconds before Harris intentionally split two free throws with 1.8 seconds remaining to ice the win for MSU.
The Spartans play No. 8 University of Connecticut Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in New York. Tip is scheduled for 2:20 p.m. EST.
Andrew Hayes is the host of Impact Izzone for Impact Sports.
Photo: David Defever/Impact Sports
AUDIO: Dawson and Izzo talk about Dawson’s improvement since returning from injury.