Lincoln, Neb. — Twice this season Michigan State senior Branden Dawson has grabbed 18 rebounds in a game.
And both times the Spartans came up short.
The first was in December in a one-point, overtime loss at Notre Dame. The second was Saturday when Nebraska held off a furious Michigan State rally to win, 79-77.
That the Spartans outrebounded the Cornhuskers 48-26 was of little consolation, and the idea of getting 24 offensive rebounds to just five for Nebraska was difficult for coach Tom Izzo to comprehend.
"That's illegal," he said. "That shouldn't happen."
Well, it did. And thanks to some abysmal first-half shooting and 11 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, the Spartans dug themselves such a big hole it didn't matter that Dawson — the Big Ten leader in rebounds at 9.6 a game — was a monster on the glass.
"I didn't know we had that many (offensive rebounds)," Dawson said. "That is unbelievable. Twenty-four, man, that is unbelievable. But we didn't make shots. I think we guarded OK but didn't make shots and missed free throws. We have to do a better job."
Dawson was limited offensively, and that likely played a role in the loss, as well. He managed to get just seven shots and finished with eight points. He credited the Nebraska defense but was determined to not let it affect the rest of his performance.
"I had to try and do something else to be effective," Dawson said. "Rebound, run and play defense. It was frustrating not getting many touches but they did a great job of doubling down with different guys. I just kept playing hard and found other ways to be effective."
His teammates were probably more frustrated that Dawson's performance, once again, came in a losing effort.
"The day (Dawson) had it should have been a monster day for him," guard Travis Trice said. "It seemed like he had 100 rebounds. For him to do that and for us to lose, it sucks. I'm more disappointed we lost and that takes away from the day he could have had."
The 22-rebound difference matched Michigan State's best effort this season. It outrebounded Indiana 50-28 in early January.
"We did a hell of a job on the boards considering that they started with even more size in a way," Izzo said. "Dawson did a great job."