Road to the B1G Title Even Tougher with Loss to Nebraska

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FEB 17 – When Terry Braverman, the PA announcer at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center, announced the score of the Wisconsin vs. Michigan men’s basketball game, the crowd erupted. Bo Ryan and his squad did their job and dismantled Michigan in Ann Arbor.

All Michigan State had to do was beat a middle-of-the-pack team and they would sit alone atop the Big Ten.

But the Cornhuskers had other plans.

“They came in here and punched us in the mouth and we didn’t punch back,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo said in his postgame press conference.

Now MSU and U of M are tied for first place in the conference, each with a record of 10-3. The Spartans have a tougher schedule remaining than Michigan, so a win at home against Nebraska would have been huge. MSU travels to Purdue on Thursday, who is 4.5 games back in the conference and fresh off a win over Indiana. Then comes the showdown in Ann Arbor next Sunday.

Last year, the Wolverines edged the Spartans in Ann Arbor 58-57. Trey Burke had a dunk with 22 seconds left that gave Michigan a two-point lead. Derrick Nix went to the line with eight seconds left and split his free throws, leaving MSU behind by a point. U of M came into the Breslin Center earlier this year and toppled a wounded Spartan squad, 80-75.

Although Gary Harris led the team with 18 points, his shooting was off. He finished 5-15 from the field and an abysmal 1-7 from behind the arc. He has been in a funk for the past six games, shooting only 32.5 percent from the field and 24 percent from deep.

“He’s in here morning, noon and night shooting,” Izzo said. “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.”

Harris has had to shoulder most of the scoring load with Adreian Payne and Keith Appling missing significant time. Appling played 19 minutes against Nebraska and wore a brace on his right wrist. He was a game-time decision and many did not expect him to suit up.

“We decided after warm-ups that we were going to try and play him some,” Izzo said. “He tried to do what he could do, but when you don’t practice for two, two-and-half weeks, when you’re not a skill guy it’s easier, but if you’re a skill guy, it’s a little harder.”

By next Sunday, Appling’s wrist should be healed more and he might be able to play without the brace. The Spartans will need all the help they can get and that includes the possible return of Branden Dawson. He is scheduled to get the pins removed from his hand on Thursday and testing and x-rays will determine if he will play against the Wolverines.

After the Michigan battle, the Spartans return to East Lansing for a two-game homestand against Illinois and Iowa before finishing the regular season in Columbus, Ohio for a rematch with Ohio State. MSU’s last five opponents have a combined win percentage of 0.667.

The loss to Nebraska shows just how deep the Big Ten is. Anyone can beat anyone on a given night. Nebraska had already won against Ohio State, Minnesota and Indiana and possibly played their way into bubble consideration. No game in the conference is a lock, and the Cornhuskers showed that on Sunday

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3-Point Play: Nebraska Edition

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.