(11) and Michigan State had a hard time breaking through Nebraska's defense. (Al Goldis/AP)
Of all the weird results in the Big Ten this season, was Nebraska’s 60-51 win at No. 9 Michigan State on Sunday the most bizarre?
Sophomore guard Terran Petteway scored 23 points on 7-of-17 shooting, including 16 in the second half, to lead the Huskers, who have now won three games in a row to move into sixth place in the conference. Since opening Big Ten play with an 0-4 record, Nebraska has beaten Ohio State, Minnesota and Michigan State. The Spartans have now lost four of their last seven games and are tied with Michigan for first place.
Michigan State guard Keith Appling returned Sunday after missing the previous three games with a sprained right wrist. Guard Gary Harris needed 15 shots to score 18 points and forward Adreian Payne had 11 on nine shots. It wasn’t enough to overcome a tremendous effort from Petteway, who hit several big threes to keep the Huskers ahead late in the second half. The win pushes the Huskers' record to 14-10 overall and 6-6 in the Big Ten. If they can finish the regular season strong against a manageable schedule, and maybe win a game in the Big Ten tournament, they could be in position to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
As much credit as Nebraska deserves for notching a huge win in a tough environment -- and featuring a particularly stingy defense -- Michigan State played a poor game. It didn't protect the ball and rushed too may shots. The Spartans went 34 percent from the field and 20.8 percent from three and scored 0.88 points per possession, well below their average (1.098) in conference play.
Nebraska was picked last in the Big Ten preseason media poll and entered Sunday ranked 78th in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings. Michigan State was picked first and entered Sunday ranked 13th. The Spartans start two players likely to be selected in the first round of this summer’s NBA Draft. Nebraska doesn’t have a single player listed on DraftExpress’s 2014 or 2015 mock drafts. At the risk of stating the obvious, this was a big upset, and Nebraska sure seemed to realize that.
People have continually said that it’s not fair to pass judgment on Michigan State because it’s not playing at full-strength. That’s true. Forward Branden Dawson has yet to return after he broke his hand last month slamming a table during a film session and Michigan State didn’t have Payne in previous losses to Michigan and Georgetown. But the Spartans did send out Payne and Appling Sunday (though Appling wasn’t fully healthy and played limited minutes). And even without Dawson, they should have been able to beat Nebraska.
Michigan State plays at Purdue on Thursday before traveling to Michigan next Sunday for a game that could decide the Big Ten title (Dawson could be available for that game). The Spartans close the season with home games against Illinois and Iowa and a road tilt at Ohio State.
This team has some time to sort things out before the postseason, but not a whole lot.