Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Huskers Nearly Blow Big Lead, Hold on to Beat Michigan State 71-67

February 02, 2023

In the middle of the third quarter, Nebraska women’s basketball was up comfortably against Michigan State as guard Jaz Shelley looked to put on a bit of a show for the home crowd.

In the span of two minutes, she attempted a behind-the-back pass on a fastbreak and a full-court overhand toss. To the crowd’s dismay, neither connected with the intended target, although the latter led to a Spartan turnover and Husker layup shortly after. The miscues could be laughed off to some extent, since Nebraska held a 20-point lead over halfway through the third quarter and was fully in control.

Fourteen minutes of game time and nearly an hour of real time later, Shelley was at the free throw line converting clutch free throws to try and help the team hold on.

The Huskers led by as much as 21 in the second half, but Michigan State cut the difference to a single possession multiple times in the final four minutes of play. Nebraska turned it over 17 times in the second half, didn’t make a field goal in the last seven minutes of the game and let up 27 points in the fourth quarter.

Despite all this, the team hung on thanks to timely late free throws, equally timely missed ones on Michigan State’s part and a few defensive stops. The final result — a 71-67 win against a respectable Big Ten foe — is all that mattered to head coach Amy Williams postgame.

“The big takeaway is it’s a win,” Williams said postgame. “It’s a win in the Big Ten Conference, and they’re hard to come by and we got one and we’ll take it.”

Michigan State entered the game averaging 80 points, finishing well below that mark even in its comeback efforts. It was 45 second-half points that salvaged what was a disastrous first half for the Spartans. They had 22 points after two quarters, shooting 33% and turning it over 11 times in that span.

Meanwhile, Nebraska’s offense clicked early for the first time in weeks, putting together one of its best first-half outputs this season. Scoring was balanced throughout the first two quarters, as eight Huskers scored. Isabelle Bourne led with 10 points at the break, making all five of her shot attempts. The final four were assisted on by either Shelley or Sam Haiby.

“I had a lot of good passes from this one,” Bourne said postgame, pointing toward Haiby seated next to her. “And Jaz especially as well, she threw me some dimes. It’s awesome as a big where you can get the position you want, and within seconds the ball’s coming towards you exactly where you want it under the basket, so credit to the guards for sure.”

Bourne finished with a team-high 20 points, followed by 11-point, double-double showings from Haiby and Alexis Markowski.

Cracks in the Nebraska lead started to show late in the third quarter. Michigan State ended that period on a 9-2 run, as Matilda Ekh’s first three of the game made it a 13-point game heading into the last 10 minutes. Ekh and DeeDee Hagemann had combined for just four points halfway through the third. They scored eight total points in the final three minutes of that quarter, then had 10 each in the fourth.

The Huskers weren’t quick to let up their double-digit advantage, going back-and-forth with Michigan State early in the fourth quarter. Ekh’s back-to-back threes only made it an 11-point game, but it ended up being the start of a 12-0 run to cut the difference to two points with four minutes left.

The Spartans had their chances to tie or take the lead. The next minute consisted of a Nebraska turnover and two missed free throws. Michigan State turned those opportunities into a pair of missed threes. Markowski scored the next points on two made free throws, Ekh answered with a jumper, and Markowski and Hagemann traded trips to the line where they both made one and missed one.

Relief seemed to come when Nebraska went up four with 33 seconds left, then six with 22 seconds left. Shelley added the last of those points after Haiby secured an offensive rebound following two missed Markowski free throws.

Hagemann responded, however. She hit a layup and drew a foul for a potential and-one, and her missed free throw was rebounded by a Spartan. The ball found its way back to the sophomore guard, who drew a foul on a missed 3-point attempt. She made all three of those free throws, making it a one-point difference and guaranteeing Michigan State a chance to tie.

The Spartans got that chance, too. Haiby missed one of her free throws on the other end, then Moira Joiner was fouled on a mid-range jumpshot with four seconds remaining. She missed both, and Markowski sealed the game once and for all by grabbing the rebound and sinking two free throws.

In the chaos of the final minutes, Williams and her team were just happy to hold on.

“We turned it over too much in the second half, we did not do the things that had gained us a really big lead,” Williams said. “But we made some big plays down the stretch and took care of rebounding which was really important in this ballgame and we’re able to get a win against a very quality Michigan State team.”

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