NEW YORK — Branden Dawson was the difference in Michigan State’s win over Virginia. Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said made that much clear, as did the stat sheet.
Dawson would have been the difference either way. Virginia made that decision. If MSU was going to win Friday night, it would be on Dawson’s broad shoulders.
Virginia pulled center Mike Tobey off of Adreian Payne after Payne scored seven of MSU’s first 10 points. Akil Mitchell was a better option, similar to Harvard’s athletic power forwards. Payne abuses less-athletic big guys. He struggles against smaller, quicker defenders.
So it was up to Dawson to beat Tobey and others, since he’d been freed from Mitchell.
He did, repeatedly attacking and finishing or drawing fouls. Twenty-four points, 10 rebounds, 6 of 8 free throws, one steal, one assist, zero turnovers.
“Akil’s a terrific defender for us,” Bennett said. “And early Dawson got by him and drew some fouls. Akil was a little tight on him, when I saw him do that to Akil a couple times, it made me nervous. Then the way Payne started the game, we got to switch the matchups. And then that was a hard matchup for our big guy, Mike Tobey. (Dawson is) a matchup problem because he’s so explosive, so athletic. And then he just, he doesn’t need a lot of shots. I know he got 16 shots, but he’s always around the ball and he plays much bigger than his height.”