Nebraska showed some life in the second half against No. 9 Michigan State on Tuesday night but it wasn’t enough to overcome an 18-point halftime deficit as the Spartans weathered Nebraska’s run and pulled away for a 91-76 win at the Breslin Center.
The loss was Nebraska’s seventh straight on the road with just one home game remaining in the regular season. The Huskers fall to 15-15 overall and 5-14 in the Big Ten.
The Spartans (24-6, 15-4) shot the lights out early and never stopped scoring, finishing at 53.3 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3. Michigan State dished out 22 assists on 32 field goals as four players finished in double figures scoring including two with 20-plus in senior forward Kenny Goins (24) and senior guard Matt McQuaid (22). Junior point guard Cassius Winston, one of the Big Ten Player of the Year frontrunners, finished with eight points and 10 assists after lighting the Huskers up for 29 points and six assists in Lincoln earlier this season.
Senior guard James Palmer Jr. led the Huskers with 30 points on 11-of-24 shooting (4-of-10 from 3) and 4-of-6 from the foul line with four rebounds. Fellow senior Glynn Watson Jr. added 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting (5-of-10 from 3) and 2-of-3 from the line with four boards and four assists. Junior forward Isaiah Roby added 10 points on 3-of-8 from the field (1-of-3 from 3) and 3-of-5 from the line with nine rebounds, five assists and two blocks.
Freshman guard Amir Harris, who started for the injured Thomas Allen Jr., had four points on 2-of-6 shooting, five rebounds and two assists. No other Huskers had more than two points. Nebraska shot 41.9 percent from the field including 53.3 percent in the second half. The Huskers shot 37 percent from deep but the Spartans made two more of 3s, 12 to 10, and outscored the Huskers 15-14 at the foul line thanks to 10 missed free throws by Nebraska.
Watson came out on fire, hitting his first three shots including a pair of 3s to power Nebraska to a 10-8 lead at the first media timeout. That didn’t last long, however. The teams traded the lead a couple of times before Michigan State ripped off a 19-2 run featuring a six-minute field goal drought by the Huskers that gave the Spartans a 30-14 lead.
Roby found Harris open under the basket for a layup to end the drought but the Spartans answered with another 3-pointer on the other end. A pair of free throws by Xavier Tillman gave Michigan State its largest lead of the half at 35-16.
Roby took it strong to the rim for a layup to get Nebraska offense going as the Huskers hit five of their last 10 shots of the half, but they continued to struggle with turnovers and couldn’t slow down the Spartans. Michigan State hit 13 of its last 16 shots to take a 47-29 lead at halftime.
After his hot start, Watson missed a heat-check 3 at the 13:43 mark then didn’t take another shot until the 2:57 mark when he drew a foul on a 3-point attempt and hit two of the three free throws. He finished with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting.
Palmer hit two 3s late and finished with 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting in the first half. The rest of the Huskers combined for five points on 2-of-12 shooting.
Goins, whose career high was 19 heading into the game, scored 21 in the first half on 7-of-9 shooting including 5-of-5 from deep. McQuaid chipped in 13 points on 4-of-4 from the field including three triples. The Spartans shot 9-of-14 from 3 as a team.
Whatever Coach Tim Miles said in the locker room seemed to have lit a fuse under his team because the Huskers came out with a lot of energy to start the second half, and it didn’t take a benching to draw out the effort.
Michigan State struck first in the second half with a pair of free throws but the Huskers answered with a 7-0 run including a pair of 3s by Watson and Palmer, cutting it to 12 at 51-39. Nebraska continued to chip away, pulling within 11, then 10, then seven at 62-55 with 11:37 to play.
McQuaid hit a shot to push it back to nine and Nana Akenten missed a good look at a 3. Goins missed a 3 himself but the Spartans secured the offensive board and Akenten was whistled for a flagrant foul after grabbing Aaron henry who had secured the board and pulled him down. Henry hit both free throws then McQuaid drilled a 3 to push the lead back to 14 with a five-point possession.
The Huskers cut it to 11 at the 7:35 mark and again at the 2:10 mark, but that was as close as they could get as Nebraska had no answer for Michigan State’s offense. An 11-3 run by Michigan State pushed it back to 19 the first time Nebraska made a run but the second push came to late as back-to-back buckets by the Spartans pushed it back to 15 and brought reserves off both benches to close out the final 53 seconds.
After nine turnovers in the first half, the Spartans gave it away just one time in the second half. The Spartans cooled off from deep, shooting just 3-of-10, but they converted 13 of their 23 buckets indie the arc which was more than enough to hold off the Husker comeback attempt.
Nebraska will close out the regular season on Sunday as the Iowa Hawkeyes come to town for the Huskers’ senior day. Tip off is set for 1 p.m. CT.
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.