Coming off one revenge win over Ohio State, the Huskers will look to pull off another at Michigan State on Thursday evening as they attempt to build up some momentum heading into the postseason.
“It feels good,” sophomore forward Jack McVeigh said about the 58-57 win at Ohio State on Saturday. “Confidence is a big part of basketball and if we get a streak going now, that’s what we need going into the Big Ten Tournament and stuff like that. We really want to keep the ball rolling, keep bringing the intensity we’ve been playing with and keep playing as a team and also playing a little desperate, because we are. It’s that time of the year and I know a lot of other teams are saying the same thing so who’s going to play more desperate when the ball’s thrown in the air.”
The Huskers had a letdown in their first meeting with the Spartans as Michigan State won in Lincoln on Tyronn Lue’s jersey retirement night. Nebraska is hoping to avoid that same mistake as the Huskers seek to win their third straight game.
“Me personally, I was pretty embarrassed by that game, especially coming off a good win against Purdue and they came in and just punched us right in the mouth,” McVeigh said. “This is one that I know we’re all itching and we’re excited to get to, that’s for sure.”
McVeigh said the biggest takeaway for the young Huskers from their loss to the Spartans is what it takes to be a good team on a consistent basis.
“[We learned] how we have to bring it every day,” McVeigh said. “We have to bring our energy, our effort and just like our toughness every single day or games like that will happen. That wasn’t like a fluke; they outplayed us, they out-toughed us. If we don’t bring that in practices or in games, that can happen to us. On the other hand, we can do that to teams. If we bring that focus that we need every day, we can make a statement.”
Coach Tim Miles said was disappointed in how “soft” the Huskers were against the Spartans in their previous meeting – both mentally and physically.
“I can prove that it was one of our worst defensive performances of my career here, and it was one of their best performances of the season,” Miles said. “I would like to think we will match up better, that we will play better and we will have a better outcome too in terms of how we will compete.”
The Spartans recently suffered a blow when they lost senior guard Eron Harris to a season- and career-ending injury. Harris, who began his career before transferring to Michigan State after his sophomore season, averaged almost 11 points and shot almost 39 percent from 3-point range before he went down.
“I think it puts more pressure on and magnifies their role guys,” Miles said. “Alvin Ellis is playing terrific right now. He has never been that kind of guy through the years where Eron has been recognized as like a 17-point scorer in the Big 12 at West Virginia … Now Alvin Ellis has developed and he’s playing like his hair’s on fire, which is good, not a bad thing. I think that eases some of the loss. But it certainly magnifies the importance of a guy like Matt McQuaid and some of these other guys that are coming off the bench that they might need to help scoring … If you can get Ellis under control and maybe Cassius [Winston] under control, now maybe you put a lot of pressure on those guys coming off the bench.”
In the previous meeting, freshman forward Miles Bridges gave the Huskers fits with a team-high 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting. The Huskers don’t have any players that would seem to match up well with his mix of size, skill and athleticism, so they’ll have to make some kind of adjustment to slow him down in round two.
“As I look at Bridges, he’s a terrific shooter, he’s a terrific athlete, he can get you in transition, he can make 3s, he can put it on the floor and he almost plays like a wing, like a guard,” Miles said. “So I can see why his ceiling’s so high and why he should be in the NBA next year. As we look at things, he’s really a tough matchup so we’re going to have to figure that one out.”
One player who could potentially match up with Bridges is freshman forward Isaiah Roby, but he’s still bothered by a sprained ankle that kept him out of the win at Ohio State.
“Roby practiced a little bit yesterday,” Miles said. “We’ll see how that goes today. We could use him, but it’s a fist fight in there … You’ve got to go in there ready to go, so we’ll just see how he goes today.”
Sophomore forward Ed Morrow Jr. should make a difference after missing the previous meeting while dealing with a foot injury.
“He’s the toughest dude in most gyms,” Miles said. “You see him make plays where he fights through two and three guys, and I can just visualize the other night against Ohio State, every game he’s been a part of he’s just made these plays, especially at the end of a game. Some guys are worn out – Ed’s a warrior. That’s going to help us against a team like Michigan State because they’ve got an amount of physicality that you have to deal with and I think that’s kind of an M.O. of ours is to be great in the paint and Ed has a big part in that.”
Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. on ESPNU with Kevin Brown and Adrian branch on the call.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.