Michigan State coach Tom Izzo had no idea how Branden Dawson would play after he challenged the enigmatic forward following a disappointing effort against North Carolina.
Izzo got the answer he was looking for on Saturday.
Dawson had 16 points and 13 rebounds, helping the No. 5 Spartans hold off Oakland for a 67-63 victory at The Palace.
"I thought Dawson really responded today," Izzo said. "I got after him pretty good."
Dawson took only two shots and had two turnovers in 17 minutes during Michigan State's 79-65 home loss to the Tar Heels on Dec. 4. It was a much different story against the Golden Grizzlies, with Dawson going 7 for 13 from the field and blocking three shots in 36 minutes.
"There was a different mindset and definitely a different approach," Dawson said. "I'd just had one of the worst games since I've been here against North Carolina. So the guys all pushed me, and Coach talked to me."
Keith Appling scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half for the short-handed Spartans (8-1), who were rusty and turnover-prone after a 10-day break. Adreian Payne had 20 points and 10 rebounds.
"We just have to come out more ready to play," Appling said. "It's as simple as that. I knew in the second half I had to be more aggressive, not only looking for my shot but getting to the paint, making the defense collapse and finding my teammates on kickouts."
Michigan State played without leading scorer Gary Harris, who is nursing an ankle injury. The Spartans also were without big men Matt Costello (mononucleosis) and Kenny Kaminski (academic suspension).
Duke Mondy, the nation's leader in steals, had 24 points and seven swipes for the Golden Grizzlies (2-9). Travis Bader, who grew up in the shadows of Michigan State, had 18 points and Corey Petros added 11 for Oakland, winless in 12 games in the series.
"I had seven steals?" Mondy said. "I didn't even know that. I have great anticipation. I'm not a gambler, but I like to gamble sometimes."
The Spartans got all but 10 of their points from Appling, Payne and Dawson, and only had five players score. But a 41-32 rebounding edge gave them just enough to bounce back from the loss to North Carolina that knocked them out of the No. 1 spot in the poll.
"It has been a miserable 10 days," Izzo said. "You lose and you want to go to war, but you can't go to war without bodies. We hope to get Gary back this week. Costello, I have no idea about that. But we're missing Gary. He's the best two-way player we've got."
The Golden Grizzlies jumped to a 20-12 lead, taking advantage of the Spartans' sloppiness. Oakland had four assists on its first five baskets, while Michigan State was recording one assist and committing seven turnovers.
"The start they had kept them in the game," Izzo said. "If we'd gotten them down early, maybe some of those losses they've had would've mounted."
Michigan State managed to rally for a 35-31 lead early in the second half on two jumpers by Appling. But Oakland wouldn't go away.
Bader's third 3 tied it at 50 with 7:44 to play. He was 4 for 14 from long range.
An Appling 3 and a Bader turnover helped Michigan State take a five-point advantage, its largest of the day to that point. Another Bader turnover and a layup and free throw by Appling built the cushion to 58-50 and seemed to create some daylight.
"They were just so physical," Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. "A couple of our bigger backups are out for the season, and we just don't have the size to match them. We weren't physical enough, and Dawson had his way down in there."
The Golden Grizzlies closed to 60-56 with 2:42 left. But Travis Trice hit a 3 at the end of the shot clock to give the Spartans a seven-point edge.