FEB 17 – The Spartans (21-5, 10-3) found themselves on the losing end of a knockdown, drag-out battle with Nebraska on Sunday afternoon. The Cornhuskers (14-10, 6-6) found their rhythm early, opening up a 13-4 lead by the first media timeout. MSU proceeded to charge back with an 11-0 run of their own, holding Nebraska without a field goal for over eight minutes, but the Cornhuskers tightened up their defense toward the end of the half and took a 32-25 lead into halftime.

Nebraska maintained their lead for most of the second half. Whenever MSU would start to make a run, the Cornhuskers would answer back with a basket of their own. Gary Harris was fouled on a three-pointer and made all of his free throws with 4:42 left, cutting the Nebraska lead to 51-47, but Terran Petteway was a shooting machine, seemingly stopping every single MSU run with a three-pointer.

Adreian Payne missed a breakaway layup and Nebraska quickly converted on one of their own to give them a 56-51 lead with just over a minute remaining. When MSU had to foul, Nebraska made their free throws and the Cornhuskers came away with the huge 60-51 upset. Here are three factors of the game.

1. Gary Harris is Still in a Funk

Although Harris led the team with 18 points, his shot was off and he kept forcing the issue. He shot just 1-7 from beyond the arc and 5-15 overall. Over his last six games, Harris is shooting 32.5 percent from the field and 24 percent from deep.

“He’s in here morning, noon and night shooting,” said Coach Izzo in the postgame conference. “I don’t know what you do. It’s not what I do, it’s what he does and all I can tell you is he’s working on it. We’re just going to keep going to him, because he is what he is.”

Although his shot is not falling, he continues to heave them up. With Appling and Payne missing significant time, Harris has felt as though he has to shoulder the scoring load. To his credit, he started taking it to the hole more frequently against Nebraska and converted on all seven of his free-throw attempts.

2. The Spartans Need Branden Dawson Back ASAP

In the last seven games that Branden Dawson has missed, the Spartans have been outrebounded in two of them, both losses. Not only is Dawson the best rebounder on the team, his is also a the top defender against big wing players. Coach Izzo called Dawson the “second-best defender on this team.” The game could have gone in a much different direction had Dawson been guarding the hot-shooting Terran Petteway.

“They made some circus shots,” Izzo said, “at least four of them (Terran) Petteway, two of them in the first half and two in the second with guys right on him. It was too late then; he was already into his thing. On the bench, we just said, ‘are you kidding me?’”

3. Road to B1G Title More Difficult

When the score of the Wisconsin vs. Michigan games was announced at the Breslin Center, the crowd erupted. All Michigan State had to do was beat a middle of the pack team at home and they would be atop the Big Ten. But with a stumble against Nebraska, MSU and U of M are still tied at 10-3 with a head-to-head matchup coming next Sunday in Ann Arbor.

“They came in here and punched us in the mouth and we didn’t punch back,” Izzo said.

Michigan State travels to Purdue on Thursday before heading to the Crisler Center for the showdown with the Wolverines. The schedule does not get any easier, with Illinois and Iowa on the horizon and the season finale at Ohio State. There is a chance that Dawson could return against Michigan, but his status is uncertain.

Michigan’s remaining schedule is more favorable, with Purdue on the road and Minnesota at home coming after the MSU game. Illinois and Indiana close out their season. It should be an exciting finish to the regular season, and the matchup next Sunday could crown the conference champion.

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