LINCOLN, Neb. — Michigan State snapped a three-game losing streak against Nebraska on Thursday night, putting a damper on Tyronn Lue’s jersey retirement celebration.
The Spartans (14-9, 6-4) shot 11-of-17 from 3-point range and held Nebraska (10-12, 4-6) to 38.5 percent from the field to beat the Huskers 72-61 in front of a sold-out crowd of 15,821 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“It was a disappointing night because, I think, of the idea of the night with Tyronn Lue having his jersey retired,” Coach Tim Miles said. “I texted him earlier … “’This is your night; enjoy it. We need to do our job and come through for you’, and we didn’t. That’s the hard part.”
Perhaps the sole bright spot from the night, besides Lue’s jersey retirement, was center Jordy Tshimanga’s performance in his second consecutive start. The 6-foot-11 freshman finished with 15 points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes — all career highs. He shot 5-of-7 from the field and 5-of-6 from the free-throw line and also blocked a shot.
“I felt good about Jordy,” Miles said. “He really did a lot of good things. When he does something bad, it’s like the whole world notices. It’s bad. He messes up. But Jordy is going to be a good player in this league. He did a better job of not fouling tonight. I think starting him has helped me give him a little bit longer rope and let him play through some of those errors. I think we’re going to continue to see him shine.”
Tshimanga’s performance has also come while the 275-pound center has been dealing with a foot injury that has limited him in practice recently.
“I haven’t really been practicing that much because of my foot,” Tshimanga said. “I just try to come in early before practice and after practice to just shoot more jumpers and free throws. I think that really helped … It felt pretty good. I always thought it was possible. It came naturally, I just followed the game plan and it happened.”
Nebraska went shot-for-shot with Michigan State early, taking an 11-9 lead on a pair of free throws by sophomore point guard Glynn Watson Jr. just over five minutes into the game.
However, senior guard Alvin Ellis hit a 3-pointer to put the Spartans ahead and they never relinquished the lead. The Spartans went on a 14-4 run to take a 23-15 lead around the nine-minute mark.
Nebraska scored the next four points to cut the deficit in half, but then the Huskers went cold, hitting just one of their final nine field goals of the first half and turning the ball over four times. The charity stripe kept the Huskers within striking range at the break as they shot 5-of-8 from the line down the stretch.
Michigan State led 32-26 at halftime.
Nebraska pulled within two after back-to-back layups by Watson, but a 13-3 Spartan run including three triples game Michigan State it’s first double-digit lead at 50-37. Nebraska pulled within seven midway through the second half, but could draw no closer as Michigan State continued to fire away — and connect — from the perimeter.
The Spartans shot 8-of-11 from deep in the second half while Nebraska shot 3-of-11.
“I think you give credit where credit is due,” Miles said. “I think Miles [Bridges] came back from the injury, take some time and maybe they’re hitting their stride. We had gotten them a few times in a row, so there’s some incentive there. I’m not foolish enough to think that Tom Izzo didn’t bring it up once, but you don’t live on that with these guys. I was just disappointed in that second half when it was a two-point game with seventeen minutes left in the game, and we just go not compete.”
Webster recorded his 23rd straight double-digit scoring game with a game-high 18 points on 6-of-15 shooting and five of Nebraska’s six assists. Wears added 13 points on 5-of-19 shooting. The rest of the Huskers accounted for 15 points on 4-of-21 shooting.
“I give a lot of credit to Michigan State, Miles said. “I thought they defended well. They shrunk the floor so it felt like our guards didn’t have anywhere to go. More than anything, they really executed their stuff. Their ball movement was excellent, and they made their shots. They made big shots, and they kept doing it. Sometimes you have a little hot streak or whatever it might be but they just kept running their stuff and running their stuff.
“I always say I love to play Coach Izzo’s teams because you learn so much about your own team. At one point, it felt like there are not many more things we can do wrong and we can allow them to do right because we just didn’t take away anything on one end that created anything easy for us on the other end. And we didn’t get much bench help.”
Five Spartans reached double figures led by Miles Bridges’ 16 points and six rebounds. Several NBA scouts were in attendance, likely to watch the potential one-and-done prospect in Bridges who showed off his full arsenal against the Huskers, shooting 7-of-10 from the field including 2-of-5 from deep.
“He is so versatile, especially to be that size,” Nebraska junior guard Evan Taylor said. “He can go both ways. He can shoot the 3 and shoot from mid-range. Obviously he’s a freak athlete. So you have to play him straight up, trust your help. Good players make good plays. The goal is to just make them take tough shots. I don’t think we did too bad of a job on them, but like I said, good players are going to make good plays.”
The Spartans set a Pinnacle Bank Arena record by shooting 64.7 percent from the 3-point line. Six of Nebraska’s last 10 opponents have hit 11 or more 3-pointers against the Huskers and opponents have shot 45.4 percent from deep during that stretch.
“We’ve had it for two years now in the Big Ten. Our 3-point defense has not been there. Some of it, I get … There are some things there where they just stick it in your eye, so you’re going to have some weaknesses. But for us not to have the ability to get into the ball, that’s what I couldn’t understand … I can live with a good play out of the offense. It’s the ones where you’re standing there with your hands down with three on the clock. We just didn’t have that urgency; that was disappointing.”
Nebraska will hit the road on Sunday for a rematch with the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Huskers outlasted the Hawkeyes 93-90 in double-overtime in their previous meeting. Tip-off on BTN is set for 1 p.m.
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.