Sometimes teams are so evenly matches it is hard to say what actually gives someone the edge in a game. A defensive battle between Michigan State and Virginia went the Spartans way 61-59, possibly because of Branden Dawson being very close to unstoppable for most of the game.
The Junior, who missed nine games earlier this season due to a hand injury finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds, making it a huge tournament for him so far, showing that the only reason Michigan State weren’t seeded higher and not the regular season champions of the Big Ten (won the tournament “only”) is his injury and that of Adreian Payne, who was also hard to handle for the Cavaliers, scoring 15 points, including two very big 3-pointers.
Virginia have made teams look very bad all season long ,so it was a matter of looking slightly better than awful on offense for Michigan State. Having talented players like Dawson and Payne makes it easier, using their size and athleticism to overcome the excellent Cavs defense, as the Spartans shot 44.7% from the field, which is pretty much as good as it gets against Virginia.
On the other end Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris each scored 17 points for Virginia, but that was about it for the Cavaliers, who found it very difficult to create open shots for themselves. Michigan State’s athletic defense moved well with the ball, and made it very difficult to create uncontested opportunities. Virginia shot only 35.1% from the field, staying alive thanks to their advantage on the offensive boards, grabbing 14 of them.
The Elite Eight is nothing new for Michigan State, who have been to that stage seven times before with Tom Izzo, losing only once and failing to make the Final Four. UConn stand in their way, with an offense that’s a bit harder to stop than what Virginia put in front of them, but also a defense that’s not remotely close to being that efficient, and a big problem in stopping teams from ganging up on them with offensive rebounds and second chance points.
And Michigan State look to Dawson to be the difference maker again. It seems like his shooting is much better since he injured his hand, and maybe he’s actually a better, hungrier player thanks to the time he missed. Everyone on Virginia agreed that he seemed to make all of the difference in the game, being the one player they consistently couldn’t contain, and Izzo is looking for him to be that guy in the next round as well.
He’s not been a very good shooter. He’s worked hard on it. I told him God might have taken his hand when he broke it, but he gave him a jump shot when he returned, because he’s a lot better shooter. I thought the start of the second half I think we had five turnovers in the first six, seven minutes. They looked like they were really running. They were cranking that offense up. I give our guys a lot of credit.