Christie scores career high, MSU handles Nebraska, 79-67
East Lansing — Michigan State is off to one of its best starts in program history, unbeaten through its first four conference games and headed to Ann Arbor on Saturday for its first meeting of the season with its archrival.
But after a 79-67 win over Nebraska on Wednesday night at the Breslin Center, there’s one lingering problem that has the Spartans — more specifically, coach Tom Izzo — scratching their heads: turnovers.
No. 10 Michigan State has struggled all season taking care of the ball, but on Wednesday, the Spartans gave the ball away 19 times, including 11 turnovers in the first nine minutes of the game.
“I’m frustrated with it,” Izzo admitted after Michigan State held off a scrappy effort from Nebraska. “I don’t want to say more until I look at the film, but the eye test wasn't very good. … But with one of the best starts in Michigan State history, you’d hope we’d be mature enough but we're lacking a little bit of that and I have to do a better job.
"We’ve just got to do a better job taking care of the ball. We take care of the ball and make a couple of free throws…”
The Michigan State coach trailed off, admitting the turnover woes overshadowed some good things from the Spartans (13-2, 4-0 Big Ten), who shot 51.8% from the field, including 47.1% from 3-point range.
However, the turnover issue dominated the discussion, and not just from Izzo.
“It’s inexcusable to have that many turnovers in that amount of time,” freshman Max Christie said. “It’s not something that is a hard fix for us. We know it’s something we can fix pretty easily if we just commit to it.
"That’s what we were talking about (during timeouts), just taking care of the ball. If we take care of the ball, we can blow games open.”
An efficient offensive effort helped as Christie scored a career-high 21 on 7-for-9 shooting to lead Michigan State while Gabe Brown scored 14, Malik Hall had 12 and Tyson Walker had 10 points and five assists.
Derrick Walker led Nebraska (6-9, 0-4) with 16 points while Bryce McGowens and Kobe Webster each scored 13 with C.J. Wilcher chipping in 10.
Michigan State was on its heels early as Nebraska came out firing making its first seven shots while the Spartans were busy giving the ball away, committing 10 turnovers less than nine minutes into the game and 12 for the first half.
The Cornhuskers broke open a 12-12 tie when they scored five in a row while the Spartans committed three straight turnovers. The Spartans rebounded with an 8-0 run to take a 20-17 lead, but the Huskers showed early they weren’t going away easily, continuing to take advantage of Michigan State turnovers and take a 24-22 lead after a 3-pointer from Webster.
Michigan State had another run from there, scoring seven points in a row, but Nebraska once again fought back to take the lead at 32-31 on a Walker drive to the bucket. But Brown answered with a triple to help Michigan State take a 38-34 lead to the halftime locker room.
“I loved our juice early,” Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg said. “There was great fight all game long and a very efficient start offensively. We gave them a couple second-chance baskets to keep it pretty close to even. They went on a little run at the end of the half but I loved our fight and effort throughout those first 20 minutes.”
The Spartans hit three straight triples to open the second half — two in a row from Walker and one from Christie — to take a 47-39 lead, one they maintained for the better part of the next five minutes before a lob pass from Walker to Brown gave Michigan State a 56-46 advantage, its biggest of the game and the first time the Spartans led by double digits with 11:25 to play in the game.
Michigan State eventually led, 60-49, but Nebraska kept chipping away as it pulled within 60-54 with just less than seven minutes to play. However, the Spartans responded with a 10-2 run with 4:19 to play after Brown got a steal and raced the length of the court for a layup as the lead ballooned to 16 points late in the game.
“These turnovers have been a problem all year,” Izzo said. “We remedied that a little bit there and then went to Northwestern and had the same kind of turnovers. Like, you’re sitting there scratching your head like, ‘What are we thinking?’
“So we’re gonna have to figure it out and do a better job because eventually it's gonna get us.”