On Friday night, it took both Payne and Dawson for Michigan State to take down No. 1 seed Virginia 61-59 and advance to the Elite.
"They were ridiculous," sophomore Matt Costello said. "They won the game for us. Hands down.
"Their big couldn't mess with our bigs and we showed it and we got the W."
Dawson had 24 points and 10 rebounds, while Payne had 16 – including a huge tiebreaking 3-pointer late.
As the Spartans struggled at times against a physical and tough Virginia defense, it was the pair of Payne and Dawson that kept proving to the be the difference.
"They're big time players and they're supposed to make big time plays in big time games," sophomore Denzel Valentine said.
They did just that.
Payne had seven of the Spartans' first 10 points. Dawson had 11 of the final 16 points in the first-half – a stretch that featured a field-goal drought of 6:27 and Virginia went on a 12-0 run.
With another stretch of almost seven minutes without a field goal to open the second half and Virginia on a 9-1, it was a powerful dunk from Dawson that got the Spartans back on the board and pulled it back to a 36-34 game.
Dawson and Payne then teamed up to help fuel a 7-0 run to give the Spartans the lead back.
"It was important and I think we never lost our poise when they went on that run," Dawson said. "We talked about teams going on a run and we just never let up."
The shot that gave MSU the lead came from a backcourt that struggled against the Cavaliers, but junior Travis Trice knocked down a 3-pointer that made it a 43-40 game.
"For me personally, I'm just grateful for the opportunity and to knock it down," he said. "That speaks to how good of a team they are, that's the only transition bucket we get."
The run became a 13-2 burst when Payne threw down a huge dunk, Keith Appling got his lone basket of the game and Dawson finished a nifty reverse layup on a pass from Valentine.
But the Cavaliers were hardly done. A 7-0 run of their own was capped by guard Justin Anderson's first basket of the game, a game-tying 3-pointer with 1:49 to go.
Then with 1:29 left, Payne knocked down his second 3 of the game.
"It was a read," he said. "Keith read it well and threw it back to me and I just stepped up and made it."
The duo came right back to team up for what probably is the first alley-oop from Payne to Dawson.
"It's something we've worked on but it was the first time we did in a game," Payne said. "I just thank God B.J. was right there to catch it and finish it."
Free throws sealed the two-point win and the first Elite 8 appearance for Tom Izzo since 2010.
"It's a big hump," Izzo said. "We get to play again. There's nothing like getting to work the second game of the weekend when you get into the NCAA Tournament.
"It's the greatest thing I do. I'm just excited about it."
And it was thanks to a pair of players who carried their team at Madison Square Garden.
"They just imposed their will," Costello said. "They're that good of players. They're NBA players, both of them.
"When you have NBA players playing on a college floor, it shows."