Nebraska women’s basketball came out on the wrong side of its mistake-filled opening game in the Big Ten Tournament, falling 67-64 to Michigan State.
The Huskers turned it over 18 times against the Spartans on Thursday, one month after the first matchup between the two featured 26 Nebraska giveaways. This time around, Nebraska never built the 20-point advantage which set it up for the February win, and missed two potential tying threes on the final possession.
Despite fighting late to get that chance to tie, the Huskers will exit Minneapolis after just a single game, potentially keeping them from an NCAA Tournament berth.
“Obviously we’re incredibly disappointed to lose. We came up here to win and advance and make a run in this tournament,” Nebraska head coach Amy Williams said postgame. “So it’s incredibly disappointing to walk away with this loss.”
The issues started early. Not even two minutes had gone by before Williams called the first timeout of the game. Nebraska turned it over on its first four possessions as Michigan State jumped out to a 7-0 lead. Jaz Shelley had the first three giveaways as a full-court press flustered the Huskers.
Shelley said after Nebraska’s recent win over Northwestern that the team was able to play more freely because some of the high outside expectations had been relieved throughout an up-and-down season. That didn’t show on the court during the first few minutes of Thursday’s game, and Williams said her team just needed to take a deep breath.
“I think we were playing in those first few minutes as if we knew there was a lot on the line and just kind of tight and tense and not very focused,” Williams said. “So the things that we really felt like needed to happen to break the pressure, we were just kind of forgetting about. We had the wrong person take the ball out of bounds one possession.”
The Huskers did settle in some after that. Shelley hit a three right out of the timeout, and Nebraska didn’t turn it over for the next few minutes. Still, the offense struggled to make shots, and Michigan State led 15-9 after the first quarter.
Nebraska performed much better throughout the second quarter, even tying the game a little over midway through the period. It was set to go into halftime down just a single point, but a crucial mistake happened once again. Matilda Ekh, Michigan State’s best 3-point shooter, launched a missed shot from deep that would’ve marked an 0-for-4 shooting start. Instead, Kendall Coley bumped into Ekh while closing out, sending the Spartan sophomore to the free throw line.
Ekh made all three shots, keeping her team in front by four points.
The Huskers took their first lead of the game in the third quarter, during one of their worst offensive stretches. In a two-and-a-half minute stretch starting at the five minute mark, they shot 0-for-4 and turned it over twice. Shelley was fouled twice off the ball with her team in the bonus however, and hit three free throws to give Nebraska a one-point advantage.
That advantage didn’t last long, however. Nebraska lost it after Shelley’s free throws and then regained it with a layup from Alexis Markowski. To end the quarter, DeeDee Hagemann spun off a Husker and finished an and-one layup over Isabelle Bourne to give the Spartans a lead they never relinquished.
Hagemann’s play to end that period started a 14-0 Michigan State run. The Spartans scored the first 11 points in the fourth quarter to go up 57-44, prompting a Nebraska timeout.
“We got off to a really bad start in the fourth quarter,” Sam Haiby said postgame. “We’ve been talking about that all season. If we want to win games, we have to go out ready to win from the jump.”
Michigan State still couldn’t pull away, however. In the span of a minute, Shelley converted an and-one, Haiby finished a transition layup, and Shelley nailed a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to five points.
As time kept winding down, Nebraska couldn’t get closer than two possessions. After Michigan State hit a three with a minute remaining to go up eight points, it appeared the Huskers chances were slim. Then, Markowski made two free throws, the Huskers forced a turnover on a held ball, and Bourne made a three. All of a sudden, it was 67-64 with enough time for Nebraska to play out the next defensive possession without fouling.
Haiby got the ball back for the Huskers by drawing a charge, but they missed two threes on the final possession, Shelley — who finished with 24 points — missed one, then got her own offensive rebound and kicked it to Maddie Krull for another. She missed as well, and the final buzzer sounded as the Spartans brought down the rebound.
“We fought to the end, and I think that we executed very well. Everyone on our team really wanted to win that game, so we did absolutely everything we could,” Shelley said. “I’m proud of us for that.”