For one half, it looked like Nebraska’s magical run at Pinnacle Bank Arena would continue. The Huskers controlled the action through the first 20 minutes and took a double-digit lead into the locker room.
Then the floodgates opened for the Spartans and Nebraska had no answer for the wave of 3s Michigan State hit them with as the Spartans shot nearly 70% from the field and outscored the Huskers 54-29 in the second half to pick up an 80-67 victory.
Nebraska (15-15, 8-11 Big Ten) shot 51% from the field and outscored Michigan State by 16 in the paint and by four at the foul line, but the 27-point Spartan advantage from the 3-point line was too much to overcome.
Keisei Tominaga tied for game-high honors with 20 points after participating in Nebraska’s senior night ceremony with his parents in the building once again. He shot 7-for-11 from the field including 4-of-8 from 3, and Tom Izzo said three of the shots he hit should have been illegal.
Freshman Jamarques Lawrence scored a career-high 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting with four rebounds and three assists. Derrick Walker added 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting including an and-one, five rebounds, three assists and two blocks in his third senior day at Nebraska.
Lincoln native Sam Griesel, who wiped away tears as he walked out with his parents prior to the game, finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and three assists. He said he didn’t expect the emotions to hit him quite as hard as they did before tipoff.
“I was a little caught off guard,” Griesel said. “I was kind of being cocky and I was asking my mom, ‘Are you going to cry?’ And then I was like, ‘OK, here we go.’ So that switched up a little bit. I think I cried and she definitely did not. I don’t know, I think you cry when when something means that much to you, and I just kept on thinking about my grandparents and just wanting to honor them tonight.”
Michigan State (18-11, 10-8) shot 16-for-29 (55.2%) from 3 led by six 3s and 20 points from Joey Hauser, five 3s and 17 points from Jaden Akins and three 3s and 19 points from Tyson Walker. A.J. Hoggard dished out 14 assists to go with his 10 points.
Nebraska jumped out to an 8-2 lead early as the Spartans missed eight of their first nine shots. Michigan State rallied to tie it up at 10-all on a Joey Hauser 3, but it took nearly eight minutes for the Spartans to convert their next field goal as the Huskers used a 17-2 run to open up a 27-12 lead.
Lawrence scored nine of Nebraska’s first 17 points to set the tone early for the Husker offense.
“He got us off to a great start again, very similar to what he did against Minnesota when he knocked down shots early in that game,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I think he had nine early points in that game and got himself to the free-throw line. Tonight, he was confident in his shot, he rose up without any hesitation. The kid can really shoot the basketball and he can have stretches where he can go on a great run, and he did that in the first half tonight.”
The Spartans settled in a bit offensively down the stretch, crashing the offensive glass hard for second and third opportunities if the first shot didn’t fall, but Nebraska continued to execute on the other end to maintain a double-digit lead at halftime, 38-26.
“The big thing we talked about all throughout the week is finding a way to use the emotions of the night in our favor and wanted to get the crowd into it right away,” Hoiberg said. “They were phenomenal right from when we started senior night obviously right all the way through that first half. They gave us an unbelievable lift. We were flying around; I thought our contests were maybe as good as they’ve been all season.”
The Huskers shot nearly 60% from the field in the first half with four 3s and 20 points in the paint. Tominaga led the way with 10 points while Lawrence and Walker added nine apiece and Griesel chipped in eight plus seven boards.
Nebraska held Michigan State to 27.8% from the field and just eight points in the paint, though the Spartans corralled eight offensive rebounds and converted them into eight second-chance points.
Nebraska seemed to leave its defense in the locker room, however, as Michigan State scored on its first seven trips down the floor including a perfect 5-for-5 mark from deep and a second-chance bucket to cut the lead all the way down to three.
“We came out, got a basket the start the second; Derrick scored it to put us up 14,” Hoiberg said. “And then, obviously, it unraveled from there. Give Michigan State credit, they came out and made shots. I think they made their first five 3s in the second half and then they got comfortable and confident. That’s how this game, is when when you get comfortable, you get on a roll like that, it’s hard to stop. We’ve handled adversity beautifully all year, we really have, especially in this latest stretch, and obviously that did not happen tonight.”
However, Tominaga hit a mid-range jumper, Lawrence intercepted a bad pass (Michigan State’s first empty possession five and a half minutes into the half) and took it all the way for a layup, then Lawrence rebounded a missed 3 and pushed it ahead to Tominaga for his own triple for a 7-0 run that got the fans on their feet.
The surge was short-lived, however, as the Huskers missed their next eight shots and turned the ball over four times as Michigan State used a 15-1 run to take a 60-56 lead. Tominaga finally ended the drought with a driving layup, but Jaden Akins answered with a 3. Walker scored inside on the next possession, but Hauser responded with another 3, the Spartans’ 10th of the half.
“We missed a lot of rotations on defense and they’re a good shooting team, so they obviously knocked down shots,” Walker said. “We just didn’t handle their run the same way we’ve handled runs in the past. They’re a good team, they knock down shots, and everything that happened in the second half was on us. So we just need to get back to what we were doing, especially how we were playing defense in the first half. I felt like we’re in the scrambles but we were doing a good job of stopping ball rotations in the first half and I think we got away from that in the second.”
Nebraska scored one point in the next three and a half minutes as the Spartans extended their lead to 14 and the Spartans salted the clock away from there, tossing in another 3 for good measure.
Michigan State shot 12-for-17 (70.6%) from 3 in the second half. The Spartans only missed nine shots total and rebounded four of them, scoring on all four second-chance opportunities.
Nebraska made 10 total field goals and turned the ball over nine times. The Huskers hit just three of their 12 3-point attempts.
“It’s disheartening, it hurts,” Hoiberg said. “We haven’t felt that in that locker room in a while and now how are we going to respond to that? We’ve responded well the last couple of weeks to find a way to put solid performances behind us and move on to the next one. It’s disappointing, it’s a hurt locker room and we’ve got to find a way to put it behind us. We’re playing Iowa Sunday who looks like they had an unbelievable performance tonight and what they did against Michigan State in their last one. We’ve got to learn from the mistakes that were made.”
Nebraska will close out the regular season with a trip to Iowa City on Sunday. The Huskers beat the Hawkeyes 66-50 back on Dec. 29.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.