EAST LANSING, Mich. — Nebraska cut a 20-point deficit to seven in the second half, but couldn’t climb any further in a 91-76 loss to No. 9 Michigan State on Tuesday night.
Three Spartans scored career highs — Kenny Goins with 24, Matt McQuaid with 22, Xavier Tillman with 11 — and Michigan State kept its Big Ten title hopes alive.
James Palmer scored 30 points with four rebounds and three steals for Nebraska. Glynn Watson added 25 points. The rest of the Huskers scored just 21, with six made field goals among the eight others who played.
Nebraska’s spiral continues, despite its best effort on the road in weeks.
NU started the season 11-2. Since Jan. 17, the Huskers are 2-11.
“We’re just short on numbers right now, unfortunately,” said coach Tim Miles, who was missing a second starter, guard Thomas Allen, with a sprained ankle. “You look at, we got 55 out of the two seniors and then we just didn’t get enough out of everybody else.”
Nebraska led by one after the opening seven minutes. But a 19-2 run helped MSU build a 20-point lead before halftime.
In a span of 4:38, Nebraska went scoreless, missing six straight shots and turning the ball over four times, and that one-point lead turned into a 16-point deficit.
Goins eclipsed his career high in the first half alone, scoring 21 on just nine shots in 18 minutes. A tip-slam from Goins with nine seconds left gave Michigan State a 47-29 halftime lead.
But a much different Nebraska team came out of the locker room in the second half.
An early 7-0 run cut the deficit to 12. A 3-pointer and a three-point play from Palmer cut it to 10 with 13:30 left.
Michigan State missed 14 of 18 shots to open the half. A block from Isaiah Roby turned into two points for Watson in transition. Two free throws from Roby cut the once-20-point deficit to seven, and out of nowhere, NU had life.
“We were trying to get some guys some rest, and yet couldn’t really do that because of the way they played,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I give a lot of credit to (Miles). His second-best player has been out, we had a little more depth, so we survived our stuff. He didn’t get a chance to survive his, and it’s been a tough, tough run for him. But his team, any time you have enough character to not quit at halftime at a game like this, shows you a lot about his players and himself and his staff.”
The tide turned back toward MSU after a flagrant foul on Nana Akenten. Two free throws followed by a 3-pointer from McQuaid gave Michigan State a 69-55 lead.
Nebraska, once one of the best 3-point defenses in the country, saw MSU hit 12 of 24 shots from 3-point range.
The lead went back up to 19, but Palmer cut it to 11 in the final minutes with his 30th point.
It wasn’t enough. And Nebraska now has to battle to stay above .500 in its final regular-season game of the season against Iowa.
Nebraska lost the points in the paint by two, won the turnover battle by five and won second-chance points by five.
“You feel like you’re gonna be right there in the game,” Miles said. “They shot the ball so well. And they weren’t going to let us in.”