Column: Dawson improves, Spartans show stability with key players on bench


Branden Dawson had one of the worst games of his MSU career against North Carolina, but that only fueled his fire.


In the last two games, he has combined for 28 points and 20 rebounds, leaving his performance against the Tar Heels as a distant memory.

It’s a fresh take on a player that has in the past struggled to be consistent.

He, along with senior center Adreian Payne, have led the Spartans from what looked like a disastrous series of injuries and suspensions to a relatively stable position heading to Texas later this week.

It’s not that the fifth-ranked MSU men’s basketball team beat North Florida 78-48 Tuesday night, but it’s the way they did it.

It’s cliché, but sometimes it’s important to look at negatives in a positive light.

MSU dominated the Ospreys without their leading scorer, one of their best shooters, a dominant big man and key role player off the bench.

Gary Harris, Kenny Kaminski, Matt Costello and Travis Trice all rode the pine against North Florida.

Still, it was North Florida, a team that lost to double digits to Indiana, Alabama and Ohio State, but many times it’s how you play in the games that don’t matter that prove how you will in the games that do.

But to have eight different players contribute in the winning effort really showed that this team is deeper than everyone expected.

Freshman forward Gavin Schilling and redshirt junior guard Russell Byrd both had career highs in points, while Schilling and junior forward Alex Gauna, who are the main replacements for the injured Costello, combined for 11 rebounds.

After the game, Tom Izzo was visibly tired of talking about injuries, but was proud of the way his team has been battling through all the adversity.

It’s been clear, too, that there’s a change of mind for Dawson.

Other members of the team talked to him and told him how much he means to the team, and how important it is for him to be the player everybody knows he can be.

Harris and Trice are expecting to return to action in the coming weeks, and Costello is aiming to get back on the court before the end of the calendar year.

And Dawson keeps improving every time he touches the ball.

With the Big Ten season right around the corner, it’s time to get healthy and kick it into high gear.

As the saying goes, it takes 21 days to form a new habit, so Izzo challenged the junior forward to bring energy to everything he does for three weeks.

So far, it’s making a difference.

Zach Smith is a State News men’s basketball reporter. Reach him at

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