East Lansing — Entering his senior season, Michigan State's Travis Trice had seen plenty of game action.
Despite his share of injuries over those first three years, the guard played in 95 games for the Spartans. But he had only eight starts — all as a junior — and was rarely, if ever, a focal point of the offense. He certainly had his role as a shooter and as a key backup to Keith Appling, but being the center of an opposing team's attention wasn't really ever the case.
Things have changed dramatically in the final season at Michigan State for Trice, who is averaging 13.6 points and 5.6 assists while averaging a team-high 33.1 minutes. And since Big Ten play began, he has had his share of big games.
He scored a career-high 26 in the opener against Maryland and helped rally the Spartans to a victory at Iowa when he scored 25 and was 7-for-8 from 3-point range.
But as Trice has emerged as one of Michigan State's go-to scorers, the rest of the teams around the Big Ten have noticed, too. And they're making tougher for Trice to find his shot. In the second meeting with Maryland, Trice scored a season-low five points and took just eight shots. In the win over Penn State on Wednesday, he was 4-for-10 for 10 points.
And in the last three games, Trice — a career 40-percent shooter from 3-point range — is just 2-for-11 from that distance.
"It's something I've just got to get used to," Trice said. "I'm in a different position than I was last year. Last year I might not even be on the scouting report, but I know that I am now and it seems like there is always a guy right by me or I hear the coaches saying, 'Don't leave him, don't leave him.' So it can get frustrating sometimes, but I'm just gonna have to adjust."
Trice said he started noticing the extra attention before the first of the year but it has really picked up since his performance at Iowa.
"Ever since that Iowa game it's been like that," he said. "Actually it's been since we started Big Ten, really, it's been like that. You just know you're gonna get heavily scouted in the Big Ten games so you have to be ready for it."
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo understands it's not a simple adjustment for a player to go from a supporting role to a leading one.
"That's why I say, every player in the world wants to be the man," Izzo said. "The BMOC, is that what they say? The big man on campus. Everybody wants to be that but there goes a lot of responsibility and there goes some pressure with being the man. And it's not as easy as you think and I think he took one real bad shot (against Penn State) and then ran in (on an inbounds pass) and they get a layup and it just didn't make sense, and that is not who he is and what he is."
As difficult as it has been for Trice, he's confident heading into today's game at Nebraska that he will be able to rediscover his scoring touch as Michigan State (13-6, 4-2 Big Ten) makes a push for its 18th straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
"My confidence isn't the issue," Trice said. "If anything it's a confidence booster that somebody is game-planning for you and preparing for you. I just have to find different ways to score or pick and choose my spots."
Trice said some of the other ways he can score include pushing the ball harder on the break and distributing the ball with hopes it comes back to him in transition.
However he does it, Trice and fellow guard Denzel Valentine — who has gone through his own ups and downs over the past couple of weeks — must continue to produce for the Spartans to win. But they have been a bit of a funk that Izzo believes could have something to do with confidence.
"There is absolutely no reason for it," Izzo said. "Those two guys work so hard and were shooting so well, but I see the same thing as you see in their faces (when they miss a few shots). Trav almost air-balled (a free throw) and that's not like him. We need a game to come out of that. Not through lack of work, so I can't complain about that."
Trice and Valentine will get their next shot to break out today at Nebraska, a team that has had its share of problems this season. The Cornhuskers have lost three in conference play but are coming off a home win over Minnesota.
Nebraska defends well and has the best field-goal percentage defense in the Big Ten, which will provide another stiff test for MSU.
"I'm sure everybody is feeling a little pressure when people are mad and everybody's upset, Izzo said. "We're all right. We're not great yet but there a million reasons and some of them are we weren't great from the beginning.
"We were supposed to work to becoming great and to do that you need your three best players to play well. … Our consistent guys early gotta get more consistent and they will. When they do we will become better."
Michigan State at Nebraska
Tip-off: 4 p.m. Saturday, Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln, Neb.
TV/radio: ESPN/WJR 760
Notable: This is Michigan State's first time playing at Pinnacle Bank Arena, which opened for the 2013-14 season. … Branden Dawson is the only player to rank in the top 15 in steals, blocks and defensive rebounds in Big Ten play. … Terran Petteway (18.9) and Shavon Shields (16.4) are the top-scoring duo in the Big Ten, averaging a combined 35.3 points per game.