When Branden Dawson thinks about his performance in MSU’s past game, Thursday against Illinois, one word sticks in his mind — “embarrassing.”
Players regularly blew past him, particularly in the first half, when the sophomore guard/forward said he didn’t bring enough energy and simply was disinterested in taking the Illini seriously.
It led him to apologize to his teammates after the game.
“I have to bring a lot more to the table,” Dawson said. “No matter what team you’re playing in the Big Ten, despite what their record is, you need to come hard and ready to play.”
Dawson will get his chance to show if the lesson took hold when the No. 12 MSU men’s basketball team (18-4 overall, 7-2 Big Ten) hosts No. 18 Minnesota (17-5, 5-4) at 7 p.m. tonight at Breslin Center (Big Ten Network).
At his weekly press conference Monday, head coach Tom Izzo said Dawson was the team’s best player and MSU will need more from him to reach its potential.
Both say it’s no secret, something they’ve talked about multiple times before.
“He’s not impressed when I do good things,” Dawson said of Izzo.
“He said he wants to see me do great things because that’s the standard he holds me to. I just need to be ready for the challenge, and I’m definitely ready.”
Readiness was a struggle for the entire Spartan team against Illinois, as the Illini capitalized on a sluggish start from MSU to take a 10-point lead into halftime.
Although MSU was able to rally for the win, junior center Adreian Payne said it’s not something the Spartans can let happen again.
“We’ve just got to learn how to bring that same intensity that we had in the second half to the first half,” Payne said. “They are really athletic and they do get up in transition really (well).”
Energy will be especially critical against a Golden Gophers frontcourt, led by forward Trevor Mbakwe, that many Spartans said they consider to be the most athletic in the conference.
Minnesota’s athleticism particularly is potent on the fast break, where the Golden Gophers
outscored MSU 8-2 in the second half of the teams’ first meeting this season, Dec. 31, when Minnesota won 76-63.
Although Minnesota has struggled recently, a blowout win over Nebraska one week ago followed by a narrow victory against Iowa leads freshman guard Gary Harris to think the Golden Gophers still are dangerous.
“They’re playing with a little more confidence and if they were able to come in and get a win, that would be a big win for them, so we’ve got to come out ready to play,” Harris said. “We can’t back down.”