Nebraska's Shavon Shields is coming off a huge 33-point game against Illinois. (Leon Halip / Getty Images)
East Lansing – Since joining the Big Ten for the 2011-12 season, Nebraska hasn’t exactly had a ton of success against Michigan State.
The Cornhuskers got blown out in their first two meetings against the Spartans but started to put up more of a fight last year. And now, after winning four of their last five and sitting in sixth place in the Big Ten, the Huskers aren’t about to sell themselves short when they face the Spartans at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Breslin Center.
“Who knows what we could do at Michigan State, and who knows what somebody could do to us here?” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said Wednesday after Nebraska defeated Illinois. “The problem is Michigan State’s sitting there saying we’re going to try to knock your teeth out. The one thing I’ve learned about this league -- my house, your house, the playground -- every night’s just a scrum, a battle. Don’t take anything for granted.”
Nebraska (13-10, 5-6 Big Ten) has finished no better than 10th place in its first two seasons in the Big Ten and a victory Sunday would go a long way toward improving that mark. The Cornhuskers are just a game out of fourth place and the first-round bye that standing provides in the conference tournament.
In the win over Illinois, the Huskers found a way to win while not playing especially well. That way was led by Shavon Shields and his career-high 33 points.
The Huskers will provide a solid test for the Spartans (21-4, 10-2), who are tied first place with Michigan and hope to keep pace heading into next weekend’s showdown with the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
Senior guard Keith Appling (wrist) likely will not play against Nebraska, which would be the fourth straight game he has missed. Coach Tom Izzo said he expects Appling back next week, probably when Michigan State plays at Purdue on Thursday.
And while forward Branden Dawson (hand) will be out again, the Spartans are benefiting from the play of forward Adreian Payne, who has been outstanding since returning three games ago after missing seven with a sprained right foot.
Payne scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in a victory over Northwestern on Thursday, and Payne’s return has also sparked center Matt Costello, who has become a much more critical contributor in the last three games.
“I thought they played very well together,” Izzo said. “Those two guys -- it gives Adreian the freedom to go all over and Matt is finding a way to play off of him. Adreian goes to the post and Matt goes to the opposite wing. I thought he did a good job of cleaning up some on the weak side and Adreian did the same thing.”
Foul trouble hurt Costello in the loss at Wisconsin, but he scored nine against Northwestern and had 10 points and six rebounds a victory over Penn State.
“It’s been nice having A.P. back because he draws so many people,” Costello said. “It makes it more open for me and I love him to pieces (for it). I know how tough it is without him and (Dawson), so having him back has been a big help.”
Nebraska at No. 9 Michigan State
Tip-off: 3 p.m. Sunday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
TV/radio: Big Ten Network/WJR 760
Records: Nebraska 13-10, 5-6 Big Ten; Michigan State 21-4; 10-2
Notable: Michigan State has used 14 different starting lineups this season. In the win over Northwestern, it was the first time MSU used the same starters in two straight games since Jan. 28 at Iowa. … Nebraska is 11-2 in games decided by five points or less under coach Tim Miles. … Nebraska’s Shavon Shields was perfect on 15 free throws in the win over Illinois, becoming the 11th player in Big Ten history to hit at least 15 free throws without a miss.