There’s a reason No. 8 Michigan State is tied for the lead in the rough and rugged Big Ten. The Spartans are long, physical, athletic, and, most importantly on Saturday, deep. It showed as Michigan State survived an early second half surge from Nebraska to come away with the 73-64 win.
Michigan State (22-4, 11-2) had four players reach double digits in scoring which was enough to trump some individual heroics from the Huskers’ Dylan Talley and Shavon Shields. Talley finished with a game-high — and career-high — 28 points while Shields recorded his first career double-double, scoring 19 points — all in the second half — and grabbing a team-high 13 rebounds.
But while those two were having career nights, the rest of the Nebraska (12-14, 3-10) offense was stagnant. Talley and Shields scored 38 of the Huskers’ 40 points in the second half. Ray Gallegos, Nebraska’s second leading scorer coming into the night, struggled through an awful night, shooting 0-for-13 from the field (0-for-10) from 3 and finished with one point.
“This was a game I was concerned about,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Tim (Miles) does a great, great job…Defensively, they’re solid. They do great things offensively, the movement he gets. Gallegos just missed some shots, and he missed some good shots.”
It was a familiar story for the Huskers this year–good effort against a very good team, close game, plaudits from the opposition, but, ultimately, a loss. Nebraska is now 0-8 against ranked teams this season.
Michigan State came out firing early, building a lead as large as 11 in the first half before the Huskers seemed to settle in. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Brandon Ubel and Talley cut the Spartans lead to 23-19 with 4:40 left before halftime. The Spartans out-rebounded the Huskers 24-10 in the first half and had a 12-percent edge in field goal percentage but led by only five, 29-24, thanks to 10 turnovers that led to 12 Nebraska points.
“That was like a minor miracle,” Miles said of the small halftime deficit. “I just feel like we didn’t do anything that well. I feel like we didn’t play offense that well, we didn’t rebound at all. They just turned it over like crazy…It felt like that was the only reason we were hanging around.”
With the game in reach, Nebraska came out energized in the second half. Shields was the only Husker having any success on the boards in the first half (six of the team’s 10 rebounds) and he found his shooting touch early in the second half. He hit a 3-pointer to open Nebraska’s scoring, followed by another jumper two possessions later.
“I hit two jumpers in a row and then, after that, we ran a couple sets to get me a shot,” Shields said. “Those went down to.”
Shields hit two more jumpers and another 3-pointer, scoring 12 points over the first 5:43 of the second half and pulling the Huskers within one at 41-40.
“(Shields) was so good,” Miles said. “He’s fun to watch when he gets going like that, isn’t he? I just kept running stuff for him because I was having a blast watching him. It was great.”
The run forced Michigan State to call a timeout. Izzo called for a defensive switch — guard Gary Harris took over defensive duties on Shields — and the change threw a switch for the Spartans.
Michigan State went on a 12-2 run following the timeout, opening up a 53-42 lead. Center Adreian Payne had 13 of his team-high 15 points in the second half as the Spartans pushed the lead to 15 before a last-ditch rally by the Huskers got the lead back under 10 at the end.
“We had some pretty good looks, and we missed,” Miles said of the nine minute stretch where the Huskers scored just four points . “We just don’t have much margin of error if we’re going to win that game. Unfortunately, just a few things went wrong and it doomed us.”
That’s been the story of Nebraska basketball in year one under Miles, but the effort and preparation the Huskers have shown game in and game out has drawn the admiration of Izzo.
“I just think he’s the guy for your program when I see that new building going up,” Izzo said of Miles. “This guy’s got energy. I’ve been on the road with him recruiting, he’s phenomenal. He’s got a great personality. I think he’s a damn good coach.”
On a night where Nebraska celebrated its basketball past by inducting Tyronn Lue into the basketball Hall of Fame, that might be the most encouraging sign for the program’s future so far in 2013.
Gallegos did not make a 3-pointer in a game for just the third time this season. He came in averaging 13 points per game … Michigan State blocked 12 shots, one shy of the Devaney Center record (Kansas State, 1997) … Shields 28 points bested his previous career-high 27 against Kent State earlier this year … Shields became the first Nebraska freshman to record a double-double since Aleks Maric in 2005.