Saturday night's game against No. 8 Michigan State seemed like the perfect storm had brewed for Nebraska to pull off one last round of Devaney Center magic against a nationally ranked team, and for an instant, it looked as if the Huskers might actually pull it off.
After cutting the score down to one point early in the second half, though, Nebraska simply couldn't hold the Spartans - who were coming off an emotional win over No. 4 Michigan and have a showdown with top-ranked Indiana next week - down any longer in what ended as a 73-64 defeat.
With nearly 30 former players in attendance for the program's inaugural Legends Weekend, including the newest Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Tyronn Lue, and a crowd of 11,947, the Huskers kept the game within reach most of the night.
In the end, though, the Spartans' size and physicality down low proved to be too much for NU to handle down the stretch. Michigan State out-rebounded Nebraska 42-24 and held a 28-18 edge in points in the paint.
"Sure did," senior guard Dylan Talley said when asked if he thought Nebraska could pull off an upset. "That's exactly what I thought. It just turned out that they made a couple more plays than we did. It went the other way, but we felt like we had the momentum. Things just didn't go our way."
Despite some ice cold shooting for most of the first half, Nebraska was able to keep the Spartans within reach for much of the first 20 minutes. It wasn't until Michigan State reeled off a 13-3 run to take a 23-12 lead midway through the half that things looked like they could potentially get out of hand.
A pair of 3-pointers by senior forward Brandon Ubel and Talley got the Huskers right back in it, though, and another 3 by Talley with just over two minutes to go got NU back to within 27-24.
Talley's 3 would be the only points Nebraska would score in the final three minutes of the half, and Michigan State went into halftime with a 29-24 lead. The Spartans lead came in spite of an uncharacteristic 10 first-half turnovers, but they made up for it with a 24-10 rebounding advantage.
Talley was 3-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc to put up nine of his career-high 28 points in the first half, while Keith Appling led MSU with 10 of his team-high 16 points.
"It was a minor miracle," head coach Tim Miles said of only being down five at halftime. "I just didn't feel like we did anything that well. I didn't think we played offense that well, we didn't rebound at all; they just turned it over like crazy, and that felt like it was the only reason we were hanging around. We made some good defensive plays too, but it just appeared to me that was the only reason we were around. I felt fortunate to only be down five."
Nebraska ended up getting just the spark it needed to open the second half from freshman Shavon Shields. After going scoreless on 0-of-3 shooting in the first half, Shields came out and scored 10 points in the first four minutes of the second half. He ended up making his first five shots after halftime, with the fifth coming on a jumper to cut the deficit to 41-40 with just over 14 minutes remaining.
The Olathe, Kan., native ended the night with 19 points and a team-high 13 rebounds for his first career double-double, all of which coming in the second half.
"I hit the two jumpers in a row, and then after that we ran a couple sets to get me a shot, and those went down too," Shields said. "I was fortunate for them to go down, and my teammates set really good screens for me to get the ball."
The Huskers couldn't get over the hump, however, as Michigan State responded with a 16-4 run after Shields' jumper to go back up 57-44 with 6:30 to go. The Spartans would go on to lead by as much as 15 in the final minutes.
"We had some pretty good looks, and we missed," Miles said. "We just don't have much margin of error if we're going to win that game. Unfortunately just a few things went wrong in that little spell and it doomed us."
A pair of free throws by Shields with 1:26 remaining got the score back down to nine at 65-56, and then Shields nailed a 3 with 46 seconds left to get it to 68-61. That would be as close as the Huskers would get, though, as MSU made its free throws down the stretch to hold on for the win.
Talley (19) and Shields (19) ended up scoring all but two of Nebraska's 40 points in the second half and were the only two Huskers to score in double figures. Adreian Payne had 15 points and 14 rebounds for the Spartans, while Derrick Nix also posted a double-double with 13 points and 11 boards.
The Huskers will have some time to think about this one and try to get things back on track, as they won't return to action until Iowa comes to town on Thursday night for an 8 p.m. CT tip on ESPN2.
"This is my first time through (the Big Ten)," Miles said. "I'm like you guys. I pay attention to what everyone writes and says and it is kind of cool to listen to what is said. What's better? The league that's so brutal that every night in you are gassed at the end, or is it a league that's top heavy and a team gets confidence by beating up on the guys on the bottom? A league like the Big Ten is the best thing in the world, having to go out every night and get better, and having to compete against the best no matter what. Even if it's Michigan State having to come out and grind out against us, there's no freebie tonight.
"I think it's great for our league to have a gauntlet like that and I think you look at players and it builds them up. They have to go out and play at the highest level every moment they are out there. I think that's just a great thing. I think that's going to allow for our league to be successful."
Around the rim
***Senior guard Ray Gallegos had one of the worst shooting nights of his career on Saturday, going 0-for-12 from the field and 0-for-10 from 3-point range to finish with just one point.
"It seemed like it just got worse," Miles said of Gallegos' shooting. "You've got to stick with him. I believe in Ray. It was a bad night, and he's going to have a good night the next time out, you watch. I still feel like he's going to come through like a champ the next chance he gets."
***Talley's 28 points bettered his previous career high of 27 points he had earlier this season against Kent State on Nov. 24, 2012. It also marked his team-high fifth 20-point game of the season and second in Big Ten play. That didn't offer much consolation for the loss, though.
"I don't care about 28; we lost," Talley said. "I'd love to score five and we win. We've just got to keep pushing, that's all."
***Nebraska fell to 0-8 against ranked teams this season, with eight of the Huskers' 14 losses have been to top-25 opponents.
***Shields' double-double was the first by an NU freshman since Aleks Maric (13 points, 12 rebounds) at Iowa State on Feb. 27, 2005.
***Michigan State's 12 blocked shots were only one shy of the Devaney Center opponent record of 13 by Kansas State on Feb. 15, 1997.