Nebraska (13-5, 3-4 Big Ten) lost a hard-fought, grind-it-out style game to No. 6 Michigan State (16-2, 7-0 Big Ten) Thursday night, 70-64.
Here are three takeaways from the action.
Run to the Fight
Head coach Tim Miles said Nebraska needed to run to the fight in order to have a chance against Michigan State.
I’d say the Huskers did that.
How else do you explain Nebraska shooting 33 percent for the game against the No. 6 team in the country and being within a couple buckets virtually the entire way? Nebraska committed to the defensive end and went toe-to-toe with the Spartans on the boards. Michigan State, the third-best-rebounding team in the country, won that battle (42-38) but Nebraska wasn’t beaten the way you thought might happen.
James Palmer Jr. got eight boards, Glynn Watson Jr. grabbed three and Thomas Allen Jr. had two. The guards rebounded. Not the way they did against Indiana, but there was a commitment to the glass from all five guys on the floor. The Huskers needed that badly and got it.
There were 12 ties and 11 lead changes in total. Nebraska was right there. Michigan State just made more plays (like the 9-0 run in the last five minutes after NU cut the deficit to three). For the Huskers, there’s no shame in that. This was not the 29-point drubbing of last season; the Spartans had to earn this one right to the bitter end.
Michigan State had a 10 point lead with 44 seconds to go and needed late free throws to finally put its 16th win to bed.
Nebraska’s season won’t end because of this loss and it likely won’t change their chances of making the NCAA Tournament. A win would have impacted seeding, but there are plenty of chances left on the schedule to get signature wins. The Huskers, if anything, proved there’s plenty of fight in them.
Point Guards FTW
The matchup of Michigan State point Cassius Winston and Nebraska point Glynn Watson Jr. was everything we could have hoped for and more.
Winston was a terror off the dribble, finding his way into the paint where he did plenty of damage. He got floaters to fall over outstretched Nebraska arms, got to the free throw line nine times and finished with 29 points and six assists.
On the other side, Watson struggled with his shot for much of the evening but set the tone for Nebraska on the defensive side of the ball. Watson had three steals, a block and three rebounds to close the game. Add to that the triples he hit early (like a stepback to give Nebraska a lead midway through the first) and the defensive plays he made late and Watson had his fingerprints all over this game.
Winston is undoubtedly the Spartans’ best player. Nebraska wasn’t really going to take him out of the game. He was as advertised, but Watson made his fair share of plays too that kept Nebraska in it. Palmer struggled mightily both in finding his shot and beating his guy off the dribble so getting game-impacting plays from Watson was huge.
You look at the box score and Watson’s line won’t jump off the page, but make no mistake, he held up his end of the deal. There was quite the point guard battle inside Pinnacle Bank Arena Thursday night. Even Thomas Allen Jr. got in on the action. Allen took the Winston assignment defensively in the second half and held his own while adding nine points at the other end.
The Star Difference
In a game as close as this one was, the stars need to be the difference.
Winston was for Michigan State.
Palmer wasn’t for Nebraska until it was too late.
Fifteen of Michigan State’s 24 field goals came by way of either Winston buckets or Winston assists. Palmer’s game was a lot weirder. Nebraska’s leading scorer was 3-for-16 up until the last 1:40 of the game and had four points on 1-for-8 shooting in the first half. He had 12 points in the last minute of the game to finish with 24 (on 6-of-21 shooting) but what do you make of those? Michigan State was basically just playing to not give up 3s at that point and as long as they don’t miss free throws, they don’t lose.
Going in, I thought Palmer needed to be the difference. Against Creighton in a similar atmosphere, he had 30 points and couldn’t miss, shooting 9-for-12 and 6-for-7 from three. His shot selection this time around left much more to be desired. Credit Palmer for continuing to fight, but all those drives to the bucket late were nowhere to be found early. There was too much settling for contested jumpers.
Winston got his points in much easier spots.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.