basketball Edit

Huskers fall 66-56 in return to action at Michigan State

In its first game in 28 days following an extended pause due to COVID-19, Nebraska knew there would be some rust to knock off on the road at Michigan State on Saturday night.

After hanging with the Spartans for the first 13 minutes, things fell apart for NU in a hurry in a 66-56 defeat.

Fatigue started to set in, and the Huskers (4-9 overall, 0-6 Big Ten) shot just 36.2 percent from the field and were a dismal 11-for-24 at the free-throw line.

A 28-11 MSU run over the end of the first half and start of the second broke the game open for good.

Trey McGowens led Nebraska with 13 points, but it was an offensive struggle for the Huskers from start to finish.
Trey McGowens led Nebraska with 13 points, but it was an offensive struggle for the Huskers from start to finish. (Associated Press)

Michigan State turned the ball over a whopping 22 times in the win but made up for it with a combined 28 points from Aaron Henry (18) and Joshua Langford (16), a 47-34 rebounding advantage, and 16 assists on 23 made baskets.

The loss extended NU’s Big Ten losing streak to 23 games dating back to last season.

The rust from a month-long layoff was evident for Nebraska right out of the gates, as it started 1-of-7 from the field, had three shots blocked, and scored four points in the game’s opening six minutes.

But the Huskers settled down a bit and took a 15-14 lead on an And-1 by Dalano Banton with 9:25 left in the half.

Things would quickly unravel from there, though, as NU would go on to make just one more field goal the rest of the way and went into halftime down 34-22. Nebraska shot just 2-14 from the field and was outscored 20-7 over the final 9:25 of the half.

Michigan State pushed its lead up to as much as 16 early in the second half, but the Huskers kept battling and eventually chipped the deficit down to 46-39 on a 3-pointer by Kobe Webster and a layup by Dalano Banton with 8:53 still to play.

The Spartans quickly answered with a 7-1 spurt from there, though, and NU wouldn’t get any closer than eight points the rest of the way.

Trey McGowens led the Huskers with 13 points and three assists, while Lat Mayen added 10 points and four rebounds. Teddy Allen, who came in as NU’s leading scorer at 18.4 points per game, was held to just three points on 1-of-10 shooting.

The Huskers will travel to take on Minnesota on Monday night in a 7 p.m. CT tip-off on Big Ten Network.

3-POINT PLAY

1. The energy was there, but the offense was not

For a team that hadn’t played a game since Jan. 10, Nebraska brought all the energy head coach Fred Hoiberg could have hoped for on Saturday night.

That effort played a significant role in Michigan State’s 22 turnovers, as 12 came off steals and four were off of drawn charges.

Even after falling behind by 16 early in the second half, the Huskers kept fighting and immediately answered with a 13-4 run to cut the deficit to seven.

Fatigue was clearly an issue. McGowens even seemed surprised by how gassed he and his teammates got at times during the game. Hoiberg did his best to spread out the playing time, as nine Huskers who played saw at least 14 minutes.

The bottom line is that NU isn’t going to beat anyone in the Big Ten by scoring 56 points, shooting 17.6 percent from 3-point range, and missing 13 free throws.

But this was a game where no one knew what type of intensity Nebraska would have after a prolonged break full of illness and inactivity. If nothing else, the competitiveness the Huskers showed was the best silver lining of the game.

2. Missed free throws loomed large

In a game where everything on offense was a struggle, Nebraska had a chance to help itself in a big way by converting points on 24 attempts at the free-throw line.

Instead, the Huskers left 13 points off the scoreboard by going just 11-of-24 at the stripe.

That included missing seven of their 14 attempts in the first half and then making only 4-of-10 in the second. Two of those misses also came on the front end of one-and-one situations.

Had NU even shot its season average at the stripe (just 65.7 percent), it would have been a two-possession game with 1:48 still to play.

With a brutal schedule now underway, Nebraska cannot afford to miss out on that many points at the charity stripe.

3. The grind begins

Nebraska struggled, but it still put forth a commendable effort against Michigan State. Now the Huskers have to do it all over again in less than 48 hours.

With another road game at Minnesota up next on Monday night, NU will travel straight from East Lansing, Mich., to Minneapolis and have one day of mental preparation before its pregame walk-thru.

Hoiberg admitted that he was concerned about how his team would respond to such a quick turnaround after a physically draining first game back.

The reality is that those tight windows between games will be the norm the rest for the rest of the season.

After Minnesota, Nebraska will have two days to get ready for its home game vs. Wisconsin on Thursday. Then it will travel out to take on Penn State three days later.

There will be no rest for the weary over the next five weeks, and the Huskers better be ready to grind through more physical and mental fatigue than ever.

THEY SAID IT

“There’s positives from the competitive standpoint. That’s what we were looking for in this game. I had no idea what to expect with the layoff, but I’m really proud of them for going out there and fighting and giving ourselves a chance. If we make half of those free throws, we’re right there and the outcome could have been different. But I’m proud of them for competing.”
— Head coach Fred Hoiberg on the effort Nebraska showed in its first game in 28 days.