IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Branden Dawson is starting to prove how playing hard from start to finish can make a difference.
The Michigan State sophomore, who is slowly coming back after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee late last season, sparked a Michigan State victory last weekend. On Thursday at Iowa, it was his energy, again, that played a huge role.
Dawson scored a career-high 17 points, including a dunk after a steal with less than a minute remaining, leading No. 22 Michigan State to a 62-59 victory over Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"I think it was the second-best or maybe his best game," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "I think Russell Byrd said it best as we walked into the locker room. He said, 'Coach, you can't be on (Dawson) about having no motor tonight.'
"(Dawson) had some big blocks, some big plays, and he was tired. That was enjoyable because I like seeing him panting because it means he's pushing himself a little bit. I thought he definitely made some big-time plays and drives and passes. He's starting to get more and more comfortable."
Dawson's play early in the game kept Michigan State from getting blown of the floor. In the second half, his final steal ultimately won the game.
With the score tied at 56, Dawson stepped into a passing lane and went the distance for the dunk, giving Michigan State (13-3, 2-1 Big Ten) its first road win in the conference.
"It was definitely the turning point, but it wouldn't have happened without Keith Appling," Dawson said of his teammate. "He had pressure on the ball, and I was just playing the passing lane. Keith started the whole thing, he had pressure on the ball."
After Dawson's dunk, Iowa (11-5, 0-3) had several chances to tie the game but couldn't convert from the free-throw line. Appling was a perfect 4-for-4 from the line in the final seconds to put the game away.
"What you have to be able to in those situations is execute your offense," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "We worked on that the last three days, and we didn't do it. What we ended up doing was having some good players make some good plays at times and got some transition opportunities. But we didn't execute at any point in time when we really needed a basket."
Gary Harris added 14 points for the Spartans, while Appling had 12 and Adreian Payne chipped in with 10.
Zach McCabe scored 15 points to lead the Hawkeyes, while Melsahn Basabe had 14.
Michigan State erased an eight-point deficit midway through the second half with a 16-4 run to take a 46-42 lead. Iowa eventually retook the lead, 51-49.
The game went back and forth before three free throws from Harris tied the score at 56 with 1:04 to play, setting up the final steal from Dawson.
"I think the remarkable thing is finding out a way to win on the road," Izzo said. "(Iowa) is a good team, and they get up and down the floor, and we didn't do a very good job."
Iowa had about as perfect a start as it could have wanted in its search of a first conference victory.
The Hawkeyes hit 10 of their first 14 shots and opened a 26-14 lead midway through the first half, taking advantage of a frigid start from the Spartans.
Michigan State shot just 37 percent from the field before the break and made just three of nine free-throw attempts, yet the Spartans somehow trailed just 28-24 at halftime.
"I thought our whole team was out of sync," Izzo said. "I was so happy that we were only down four at halftime."
Michigan State got seven first-half points from Dawson, who pulled the Spartans within two points late in the half when he blocked a shot and took the ball the distance of the court for a spinning layup.
NOTES: Iowa junior Roy Devyn Marble did not play because of a sprained ankle suffered during practice. Marble is the Hawkeyes' leading scorer at 15.5 points a game. He plays 39.9 minutes a game, more than any other Iowa player, and was replaced in the starting lineup by senior Eric May, who scored five points. ... Michigan State, fourth in the Big Ten in rebounding margin, has been outrebounded only one time this season. The Spartans posted a 36-35 rebounding edge Thursday. ... Michigan State's Denzel Valentine and Iowa's Anthony Clemmons were high school teammates who won back-to-back state titles at Lansing (Mich.) Sexton High in 2011 and 2012. Valentine finished scoreless in 21 minutes Thursday, while Clemmons scored four points in 22 minutes.