Dawson brings game-changing energy

After poor showing and benching vs. UNC, junior forward comes back in big way in response to challenges from Tom Izzo and his teammates.

Branden Dawson sat in the visiting locker room in The Palace of Auburn Hills on Saturday afternoon surrounded by a semicircle of cameras and voice recorders.

Walking past, Tom Izzo reached in and flicked him on the back of the head and said, "See, if you play well you get all these people around you."

Dawson did play well against Oakland – and Michigan State needs him to keep playing up to level he did in putting up 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Just 10 days before, Dawson was riding the bench for the majority of the second half as MSU struggled against North Carolina. Izzo was displeased with his effort and energy. As a result, the talented junior sat and watched as the Spartans were outmuscled on the glass and taken down by an unranked Tar Heels team and he clocked a career-low 17 minutes.

On Saturday, he called that performance one of the worst games he has played at Michigan State.

What happened between that lowly Wednesday night and an energy-filled Saturday was a bevy of challenges, meetings and what Dawson said the need to redeem himself.

"We challenged him," Izzo said. "I challenged, threatened, you call it what you wanna call it. I loved the way he practiced all week. He was definitely the best practice player."

"Coach talked to me and had a meeting with me and told me that I needed to start playing harder and being that guy to change this team," Dawson said of his meeting with Izzo.

Seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne also issued challenges to the 6-foot-7 forward.

"After that game we just kind of had a meeting and told each other that we definitely needed to pick it up as a team," Dawson said. "Just a couple guys that wanted to meet with me and tell me that I'm the difference maker on this team and when I come out and play hard.

"I'm just a game changer and I just change everything."

Appling said Dawson has the capability to make a big difference on the Spartans – and it starts with his motor.

"When he brings energy," Appling said, "we play well as a team because he's able to do so many different things out there on the floor that don't have anything to do with skill.

"There's just something special that he brings to the table."

And Dawson brought those intangibles to the table Saturday and it showed – and it just might have given MSU the edge it needed.

Which is exactly why Izzo issued the challenge to Dawson to step up and make a difference and why his teammates did the same. They know what MSU fans might be realizing: Dawson is the X-factor for the Spartans.

And if he keeps playing well, plenty of people will want to talk to him.

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