Men's basketball | NCAA tournament

Dawson's defense keeps Duke guard off his game

2013-03-29T22:00:00Z 2013-03-30T18:02:03Z Dawson's defense keeps Duke guard off his gameCourtney Linehan (219) 933-3367, courtney.linehan@nwi.com nwitimes.com

INDIANAPOLIS | With three region natives already advancing to the Elite Eight, Lew Wallace graduate Branden Dawson had work to do if he wanted to become the fourth.

Committing two fouls in the first 11 minutes, though, meant he spent much of Friday's game against Duke on the bench.

Seth Curry scored 29 points to lead the second-seeded Blue Devils past third-seeded Michigan State 71-61 and into the Midwest Regional final.

Dawson was tasked with guarding Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon, a 6-foot-4 freshman from Dallas who the Spartans saw as a major roadblock in their road to the Final Four.

"The coaches talked about him being the one that's aggressive; coming off ball screens, he can shoot," Dawson said Thursday. "Duke has very good space, and Rasheed is very aggressive."

Sulaimon led the Blue Devils in their win against Creighton last weekend, scoring 21 points, including eight on 10 trips to the free-throw line.

It's where he was headed Friday when he drew those two quick fouls, placing Dawson, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, back on the bench.

Duke and Michigan State continued to battle neck-and-neck throughout the first half. The Spartans shot better from the floor, but the Blue Devils made twice as many trips to the foul line.

It was important to Michigan State to stay with Duke, rather than fall for the mystique that's thrown so many other teams off their game.

They kept it close into the second half, matching each other shot-for-shot as the game unfolded.

By then Dawson was back on the floor, stopping Sulaimon from executing another postseason scoring blitz.

It's what teammate Gary Harris says Dawson did for the Spartans against Valparaiso and Memphis.

"Branden, he does a lot of stuff that most people wouldn't really recognize like keeping the ball alive, getting other people points, like little hockey assists," Harris said. "Coach talks about him. He makes a lot of things happen that necessarily doesn't go into the stat book, but when we watch film, he makes a lot of plays happen and is a key part of our success over the last two games."

Yet late in the game Sulaimon found his way back to the foul line, making 9 of 10 free throws he attempted in the second half. That helped the Blue Devils maintain a comfortable lead as Michigan State struggled from the field.

In the second half, the Spartans made only 30 percent of their field goals and turned the ball over 11 times, while Duke turned it over just three times.

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