Branden Dawson will tell you the truth of the matter now -- he thought long and hard about transferring after his freshman season at Michigan State.

"We need more out of you," coach Tom Izzo continued to say.

Unable to be who Izzo knew he could be and struggling with the aftermath of a torn ACL, Dawson figured he'd just get out of East Lansing, go someplace where what he was right then was enough.

"Every freshman goes through the process of not getting all the balls and not getting all the touches, not scoring a lot of points," Dawson said. "It was frustrating. I was ready to leave, and coach, he hung in there. And I believed him, I trusted him."

Fast forward to Friday night in the NCAA East Region semifinal. Dawson's dominating 24 points and 10 rebounds against Virginia have led the Spartans to the Elite Eight.

Dawson had a career-high 26 points against Harvard earlier in the NCAA tournament. This, after Dawson was selected most outstanding player in the Big Ten tournament.

It's what Izzo knew in his heart Dawson was capable of.

It's what Dawson was unable to grasp.

It's what eventually manifested out of his worst decision.

When Dawson punched a table during a film session back in January -- breaking his fifth metacarpal on his right hand-- he did it with all the passion his coach had ever asked for. He did it because the things ESPN's Dan Dakich was saying were true -- in order for Michigan State to get to win a national championship, it needed the version of Dawson that Izzo believed in but no one had seen.

Late Friday night, after watching Dawson assert his will on his ACC champion Cavaliers, coach Tony Bennett echoed Dakich's exact words.

"Dawson makes all the difference," Bennett said.

And Bennett added: "He did today."

Dawson missed nine games this season with his right hand in a cast. During that time, the Spartans (29-8) went 4-5. Since his return on March 1, Michigan State has gone 7-2 -- including the Big Ten tournament title and a run to the Elite Eight, where it will face No. 7 seed UConn on Sunday at 2:20 p.m. ET (CBS).

"I'm thinking about going and breaking my hand with the way he's playing right now," Michigan State's Travis Trice said. "Knock on wood.

"But seriously, BJ is a great player. I think honestly when he broke his hand and even when he tore his ACL, it made him appreciate basketball. After he broke his hand, just his rehab and how much harder he's worked, it's a testament to him."