Huskers Fall But Leave Strong Impression on Izzo
Tom Izzo, his coaches and his players were legitimately paranoid heading into No. 6 Michigan State’s game Thursday night at Nebraska.
That’s the exact word Izzo, the dean of Big Ten Conference coaches, used in his post-game news conference.
That says something about the respect Izzo has for Nebraska and coach Tim Miles, a feeling that didn’t change after the Spartans left Lincoln with a 70-64 victory, ending the Huskers’ 20-game winning streak at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“I look at that as a very quality win,” Izzo said. “Tim’s got a great team. That’s going to be an NCAA Tournament team, and I hope they keep on winning now.”
Full disclosure: Izzo admitted Nebraska didn’t play as well as it had been.
“Maybe we had something to do with it,” he said.
Whatever the case, Miles was taking no solace in simply playing the nation’s No. 6 team to a two-possession game.
“There are no moral victories,” Miles said. “I am utterly mad and disappointed.”
And for good reason.
Nebraska’s problems centered on poor shooting.
Some shots rattled in and out. Too many fell short.
Not nearly enough went in.
“I think we missed some easy ones,” Nebraska guard Glynn Watson Jr. said. “We never just got in a rhythm.”
That’s mostly describing the Huskers’ perimeter shooting – they were 5-of-26 on 3-pointers – although their 12-of-26 performance on shots at the rim, according to Miles, didn’t exactly burn the nets, either.
“It’s just hard to overcome a night like that,” said Miles, whose team shot 32.8 percent. “I wasn’t very pleased with our offense in any way, shape or form.”
Granted, the poor offensive game came against a long, athletic and physical Michigan State team that ranks statistically among the nation’s best defenses. Tanner Borchardt’s root canal this week was probably less painful that what the Huskers faced trying to score against the Spartans.
When Miles looked at the clock with only a minute remaining and saw Michigan State had a mere 60 points … well, that type of defensive performance by Nebraska should be good enough to win, especially at home.
To be sure, the crowd of 15,246 did its part in providing a noisy home court advantage
“That place was rocking,” Izzo said, “as loud as I’ve ever heard a place lately, and we found a way to win.”
Cassius Winston had a lot to do with that. The MSU point guard scored a career-high 29 points on 9-of-15 shooting and guided the Spartans from tip to buzzer with a steady hand.
“Cassius Winston was unbelievable from the start,” Izzo said. “He just ran the whole show.”
Michigan State, meanwhile, flustered Nebraska’s top scorer on the season, senior guard James Palmer Jr. He led Nebraska with 24 points, but on 6-of-21 shooting, and half his points came in the final 1:40, after the Huskers faced their biggest deficit of 12 points.
“We just couldn’t operate the way we needed to operate successfully to win the game,” Miles said.
Nebraska trailed by five at halftime and took a couple of one-point leads in the second half, the latest at 14:27 remaining on a layup by Isaac Copeland Jr.
The Huskers forged a 44-44 tie on two Palmer free throws with 9:43 remaining, but freshman Aaron Henry hit a 3-pointer to spark a 7-0 run to put Michigan State ahead to stay. The Huskers got as close as three points with 5:28 remaining before the Spartans pulled away again.
“When we got down seven, we lost heart a little bit for a few possessions,” Miles said. “You can’t, especially when time is of the essence. You’ve got to stay in there and stay with the plan.”
Nebraska (13-5, 3-4 Big Ten) lost its ninth straight game to a top 10 team. Michigan State (16-2, 7-0) has won 19 straight regular-season conference games, dating to last season. That's a program record.
“I’ll take the win. I’ll enjoy the win," Izzo said. “Nebraska is going to win a lot of games. I mean, they are a very, very good team."
The Huskers play next at Rutgers before returning home for games against Ohio State and Wisconsin.
“We’re going to have a lot of games like this where we’re going to have to rise to the occasion,” Miles said. “Tonight, we didn’t.”
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