Dienhart: Dawson, Spartans look ready for March

Healthy again, Michigan State toppled Northwestern, 67-51, on Friday night in the Big Ten tourney quarterfinals. The win marked the third-seeded Spartans’ third win over the Wildcats this season. Get Tom Dienhart’s instant reaction to the game in this post.

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Key moment: With less than two minutes left in the first half, Travis Trice made a nice pass to Matt Costello, who finished with authority to give Michigan State a 35-20 edge. Then, after a Northwestern turnover, Denzel Valentine made a behind-the-back dish to Costello, who laid in the ball and was fouled intentionally. He made one of two freebies to give the Spartans a 38-20 lead with 49 seconds to go in the first half. MSU was off and away toward a blowout victory. The Spartans needed a confidence-building win like that after going 5-7 down the stretch. Despite the loss, Northwestern has much to build on under Chris Collins, who avoided the cellar and won a Big Ten tourney game with a limited roster that lacked depth. The guy can coach.

Key player: Had to be impressed with Branden Dawson, who looks to be ready for March after missing extensive time with a broken hand. He hit 8-of-12 shots for a team-high 16 points with nine rebounds. Welcome back, big fella!

Key shot: Less than a minute into the second half, Adreian Payne drained a three-pointer. That gave the Spartans a 43-22 lead with 19:26 left in the half. A big man draining bombs always is demoralizing and sent a message of what was ahead in the second half.

Key number: 40, rebounds for Michigan State. NU had only 24. That dominance on the glass played a role in the Spartans outscoring the Wildcats 32-20 in the paint. MSU also notched 21 points off turnovers, had 20 second-chance points and 17 fast-break points. Bottom line: The Spartans dominated from the time they got off the bus vs. an overmatched Northwestern club.

Up next: The Spartans will take on No. 2 Wisconsin for the right to play in the Big Ten title game. The teams met just once this season with the Badgers winning 60-58 at home.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Doug on 3/14/2014 @ 11:13pm EDT Said:

Wisconsin beat MSU 60-58 at home, not 60-50 ……

Doug on 3/15/2014 @ 2:59pm EDT Said:

Thank you for the correction ….