The most recent player to return from injury for Michigan State might be the most valuable as the Spartans seek to make a run this March.
In his fourth game back after breaking his right hand in mid-January, Dawson responded to a week of challenges – "They've been telling me in practice, ‘We need more out of you,"" he said.
"I felt good out there and my teammates have been telling me in practice we need more out of you," he said. "We just need you running, bringing energy and just crashing the boards and that's what I did.
"I stayed solid and didn't rushing anything and it turned out good."
With a combination of spinning post moves, tip ins, offensive rebounds and jumpers, his his 16-point, nine-rebound performance left Tom Izzo saying it was the best he had seen Dawson in a long time.
"The difference in Branden was his energy and his defense," Izzo said. "Then he made things happen on the break and he did hit a couple nice shots, but I think he felt better about himself because he did other things better. …
"I think that was one of the best games Branden has played here."
While the energy was a big impact, Dawson showcased a jump shot that has been erratic throughout his career Friday. Most impressively, he buried a long two from the top of the key in the first half.
He said it brings him confidence to see those shots go in, but also it has been an improvement in his focus since his broken hand.
"It's kind of strange," Izzo said. "I told him God might have taken his hand away, but he gave him a jump shot. … I think he's concentrating harder on the form of his shot because everything is not perfect and it's helped him."
In turn, Dawson is helping his team and being the gamechanger they have implored him to be – and that spark he realizes he is for the Spartans.
"That's huge for us, especially when he plays like that," sophomore Gary Harris said. "With him defensively and offensively, I feel like that helps everybody else and that picks everybody else's energy up."
Now, he sees it, too.
"A lot of people say that I'm the X-factor and I lift this team up," Dawson said. "I think it's kind of true because coach pulled me to the side and said we need you to bring energy, we need you to pick this team up and when things go bad, just get the guys together."