In the first half of Thursday night's match up between Michigan State and the Iowa Hawkeyes, things looked ice cold for the Spartans. They trailed heading into halftime and their percentage from the field was just sorrowful.
No. 22 Michigan State was struggling--it was painfully clear. Playing away from home in Iowa City against a Big Ten opponent in the Hawkeyes almost looked to be too much for the Spartans at times. But if MSU hopes to earn itself another Big Ten Championship, or make a meaningful run in the NCAA Tournament, players like sophomore Branden Dawson know that it's going to take more than just fancy footwork and good luck.
"We had to have this one," said Dawson concerning keeping his team's hopes alive for a conference title. "To win the Big Ten championship, you've got to win big road games like this."
Dawson certainly did his part to help his team win. With 48.9 seconds left in the game, Dawson stole the ball away from the Hawkeyes and dunked in the game-winning points for MSU. Add that final effort to his career-high 17 points on the night, and you've certainly got the makings of a tough-caliber player ready to see his team take it all.
But Dawson wasn't the lone star for head coach Tom Izzo's team Thursday night; freshman Gary Harris (14 points) and junior dynamo Keith Appling (12 points) also compiled the performance to give MSU the victory.
"I can't express how proud I am of those three guys," Izzo said of the McDonald's All-Americans Dawson, Harris, and Appling. "I think the mark of a team that's growing is finding a way to win in the road. (Iowa) is a good team."
All-around, it was a sloppy performance for the Green and White, but with three of their top players running on all cylinders, the Spartans found a way to pull forward with last-minute dominance in unfriendly territory. Branden Dawson, meanwhile, knows he was not alone out there on the court.
"It was a great play on both ends," Dawson said of his teammate's performance, "because if Keith isn't pressuring (Gesell) like he is, I can't get the steal."
The win keeps Michigan State's hopes alive for making a positive impact before much of the real "nitty-gritty" part of the Spartans' schedule kicks in. In upcoming games, MSU will face some of their toughest opponents and their resolve will be put to the test. All of this, though, is just the status quo for Izzo and his boys.
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