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East Lansing — Just three weeks into the Big Ten season, Michigan State is facing a critical stretch.

After losing to Wisconsin, 77-76 on Sunday, the Spartans (16-3, 3-3 Big Ten) have now dropped two straight and find themselves falling off the pace in the conference race. Nebraska comes to the Breslin Center on Wednesday followed by a visit from Maryland on Saturday, and Michigan State can ill afford to drop many more games and stay in the title hunt.

“It’s an important week for us,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said at his weekly news conference on Monday. “Our backs are a little bit against the wall.”

The Spartans will continue to be without guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr., who will be out an extended time as he tries to recover from plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

In the meantime, Michigan State must get over a frustrating loss, one where it held a four-point lead with 30 seconds to play in the game but made several crucial mistakes.

“Everybody can be beat and you have to play good,” Izzo said. “You’ve got to play hard and got to play smart. We’re moving forward. I didn’t think we were playing as good and as hard the last couple of weeks. Now we’re playing harder and tougher. Last night, between the fouls and the situation at the end, we didn’t play smart enough.

“The team played their butts off, but we still could have won the game at the end and didn’t do it.”

matt.charboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

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