Spartans 'locked in' on 3-pointers, prevail

Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News

Lincoln, Neb. — Michigan State said it was on high alert heading into Thursday night’s matchup with Nebraska, especially with the Cornhuskers coming off an upset of Purdue.

It proved to be the right approach as Michigan State played arguably its best road game of the season to cruise past Nebraska, 72-61, at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

It was the second straight victory for the Spartans (14-9, 6-4 Big Ten) and ended a three-game skid against the Cornhuskers that dated to 2014. The win left Michigan State alone in fifth place in the Big Ten.

BOX SCORE: Michigan State 72, Nebraska 61

Miles Bridges scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead Michigan State as five players reached double figures. Alvin Ellis scored 11 while Cassius Winston, Nick Ward and Kenny Goins had 10 points each.

“We really came together today,” Bridges said. “We pushed through adversity when they were starting to come back and we fought to bust the lead wide open. Our guards did a great job on their guards.

“We need these road games. If we continue to play like that we’ll get ’em.”

Michigan State benefitted from an outstanding shooting performance, making eight 3-pointers in the second half and finishing 11-for-17. It was the third time this season it hit that many 3-pointers in a Big Ten game and the 64.7 percent from long range was its best this season.

“I just feel like we had a great shoot-around today and everybody shot well in this game. Everybody was locked in and focused,” said Joshua Langford, who made all three of his 3-point attempts. “Everyone had a great game across the board. It was a great team win tonight and I feel like we have a lot more in the tank.”

Tai Webster scored 18 for Nebraska (10-12, 4-6), Jordy Tshimanga had 15 points and nine rebounds and Glyn Watson Jr. added 13 points.

But the Cornhuskers could never get much rhythm offensively as Webster and Watson failed to break down the defense on a consistent basis.

“The big thing is the ball screens, they run them left and right,” Goins said. “It takes all five guys to defend it and all five parts have to be right or they score. The fact we were able to defend them all night with five guys, the focus really showed through tonight.”

After Nebraska went ahead 11-9, Michigan State started to take over with a 14-4 run midway through the first half to open a 23-15 lead with 9:10 to play, matching the biggest lead of the half. The run started with a 3-pointer from Ellis and was capped by another 3-pointer from Langford.

Nebraska chipped away and cut the margin to 27-24 after Webster split a pair of free throws with three minutes left in the half. However, after a three-point play from Eron Harris and jumper in transition from Bridges, Michigan State was ahead, 32-24. The Cornhuskers added a couple free throws to make it 32-26 for the Spartans at halftime.

Michigan State got it rolling in the second half after Nebraska cut the lead to two with a 10-1 run that turned into the biggest lead of the game at that point, 50-38, with 13:50 to play. It was capped by an Ellis 3-pointer and one from Winston, who nailed another less than a minute later to answer a Nebraska three-point play and give the Spartans a 53-41 lead.

“I’m just disappointed in the second half we get it to a two-point game and then we just go not compete,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “They just drilled us. … Their ball movement was excelling, they made their shots, made big shots and they kept doing it. Give credit where credit is due.”

Nebraska had one more surge, getting as close as 53-46, but the Spartans answered by scoring the next six points to extend the lead to 59-46. After Ward knocked in an errant shot from Ellis, the Spartans had a 64-50 lead with seven minutes left in the game. They eventually extended the lead to 70-50 and were never threatened the rest of the way.

“I’m ecstatic about the win and I think we beat a good team that was playing good and lost some very tight games,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We got some play out of a lot of guys … We’re getting better but we’ve got a long way to go.”