February 16, 2014 at 8:13 pm

Nebraska 60, No. 9 Michigan State 51

Michigan State misfires with shot at first place alone; Nebraska rolls

MSU-Nebraska postgame
MSU-Nebraska postgame: MSU coach Tom Izzo takes the blame for Sunday's loss.

East Lansing — It didn’t take long to understand what type of day it was going to be Sunday at the Breslin Center.

The crowd erupted just seconds before Michigan State and Nebraska tipped off, hearing the news Michigan had just lost to Wisconsin and leaving the door open for the Spartans to take over sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.

Instead of jumping on the opportunity, however, No. 9 Michigan State watched Nebraska hit its first three shots of the game, a theme that would last much of the day as the Spartans crumbled in a 60-51 loss, leaving them in a tie with the Wolverines.

“There are always tough losses in a season,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “This one was the toughest so far because I was so disappointed in how we came out. On the other side of it, I’m not upset about the loss because we got exactly what we deserved.

“Energy is the biggest thing that you need in these games. There have been a lot of teams that aren’t bringing it. That’s why there have been some bizarre games. Today, it was the Spartans that didn’t bring it. Nebraska, they were junkyard dogs. They remind me of some of our old teams. They took it at us. They talked it, they walked it, they played it. I thought they were tough.”

It was evident early as Walter Pitchford nailed a 3-pointer on the first shot of the game and Terran Petteway nailed huge shots late for the Huskers. Petteway scored 23 while Pitchford (East Lansing Summit Christian) added 18.

And while Petteway’s huge 3-pointers in the final minutes kept Michigan State’s comeback efforts at bay, Izzo was quick to emphasize the game was decided well before the last few minutes.

“It was their night and that night started at the beginning,” Izzo said. “Don’t think it started at the end. It started at the beginning and that is what I’m most disappointed about, that I couldn’t get through to my team.”

Gary Harris scored 18 but was just 5-for-15 from the field and 1-for-7 from 3-point range. Adreian Payne added 11 points and nine rebounds for the Spartans (21-5, 10-3 Big Ten).

“They played great today,” Harris said, “but I feel like if we came out and punched them in the mouth first, we would have been just fine.”

After Nebraska opened a 13-4 lead less than four minutes into the game, Michigan State did manage to punch back for a few minutes, going an 11-0 run to take a 15-13 lead, its first of the game. However, the Cornhuskers were hardly going away and took advantage of the fact the Spartans made only one basket in the final 6:03 of the half, taking a 32-25 lead into halftime.

The second half was much the same as Petteway scored 16 of his points after the break and helped the Cornhuskers open a 48-39 lead with 8:22 to play.

The Spartans did have one final push left and cut the margin to 48-44 before Petteway hit a step-back 3-pointer over Payne to give the Huskers a 51-44 lead. But Harris hit three free throws and Payne scored on a jump-hook to cut the margin to 51-49.

Michigan State had a chance to take the lead on its next possession, but Kenny Kaminski misfired on a 3-pointer and Payne picked up his fourth foul going for the rebound.

Petteway cashed in by nailing a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock on the next possession to put Nebraska back up by five before Harris hit two free throws. However, Michigan State couldn’t close the gap and the Huskers iced the game at the free- throw line.

“I’ve only been here a year and half but for us, obviously, it’s a marquee win,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “It’s really important. I think there are certain moments in time that you have to define yourself. I really believe in this group.”

It was the sixth win in the last eight games for Nebraska (14-10, 6-6), which might be playing itself into contention for an NCAA Tournament bid.

“I’m doing a disservice to my team if that’s not unconditionally our goal,” Miles said. “It’s always our goal. … Just stick with the process and good things will happen. After the conclusion of the season, it’s still out of our control unless we win the Big Ten Tournament.”

As for Michigan State, Izzo hopes the poor showing and the resulting missed opportunity will be good for his team.

“They came in here and punched us in the mouth and we didn’t punch back,” he said. “That doesn’t happen very often. Maybe a little controversy might bring us closer together and quit listening to the outside world and listen to the inside world, cause we didn’t play today.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com
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Tom Izzo wanted a call on this second-half play, but obviously didn't get it. / Dale G. Young / Detroit News
Adreian Payne's defense causes a turnover by Nebraska's Tai Webster in the ... (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)