LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Nebraska coach Tim Miles told his players last week that if they hoped to make the NCAA tournament, they needed to start their run against Michigan State.
So far, so good.
Terran Petteway scored a season-high 32 points, Shavon Shields added 21 and the short-handed Cornhuskers held off Michigan State 79-77 on Saturday.
Petteway said Miles' challenge motivated him and his teammates.
''We don't really like him to sugarcoat anything,'' Petteway said, ''so once it's like that, we know what our job is. We have to come out and execute, and that's what we did tonight and got the win.''
The Cornhuskers (12-7, 4-3 Big Ten) won for the fourth time in five games, holding on after squandering most of a 17-point second-half lead. The Spartans (13-7, 4-3) lost for the second time in three games.
The Huskers were without two starting big men. Forward David Rivers sat out after spraining his left knee in practice Thursday, and Walter Pitchford was ejected for throwing a high elbow at a Spartan away from the ball less than four minutes into the game.
''It gave us some resolve right away,'' Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. ''We didn't see the play. We're in real time. So sometimes kids feel they're wronged and they play with a little more fire. We're all eye-witness accounts, and none of those are usually right.''
Miles said he looked at video of the play after the game and that Pitchford deserved to get kicked out.
''He made a mistake, and I know he's sorry for that mistake,'' Miles said. ''He's being held, and he looks at the ref (before throwing the elbow). You don't do that. That's uncalled for. That's not us. Walt will learn from that.''
MSU's Travis Trice scored 23 of his 27 points in the second half, and Denzel Valentine finished with 21. Branden Dawson tied a career-high with 18 rebounds to go with his eight points.
Michigan State held a 48-26 rebounding advantage, including an incredible 24-5 on the offensive end. But the Spartans shot 36 percent in the first half, 41 percent for the game, committed 16 turnovers and made only 15 of 25 free throws.
''They hit some tough shots and got some of their guys going early,'' Trice said. ''If we play the way we did the last eight, seven minutes of the game, we wouldn't have had a problem.''
Nebraska led by 14 points at half and by 17 with 16:41 left, but the Spartans weren't finished. Trice converted a four-point play and Dawson dunked to pull them within 74-70 with 53 seconds to play.
Shields and Tarin Smith made two free throws apiece to extend the lead, but Michigan State still had a chance after Petteway missed twice from the line.
Trice's three-point play with 12.6 seconds left made it 78-75, and after Petteway missed the second of two free throws, Trice drove for a layup to cut it to 79-77 with 2.2 seconds left.
Shields' long inbound pass was intercepted but the Spartans couldn't get off a good shot.
''They deserved to win it, and by more than they did,'' Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. ''If I try to take a positive out of this game, there was none. But if I were to stretch my imagination, we found a way to come back and make a game of it, but not a good game.''
Michigan State: The Spartans were making their first visit to Pinnacle Bank Arena, which opened last year.
Nebraska: Walter Pitchford's ejection came after he was assessed a technical for knocking down a Minnesota player during a dead ball last Tuesday. Pitchford also got a `T' on Jan. 8 against Rutgers. ... Leslee Smith got his first start of the season in place of David Rivers.
RILEY AND STAFF INTRODUCED
New Nebraska football coach Mike Riley and his assistants were introduced at halftime. As Riley walked onto the court he crossed his forearms, the signature ''throw the bones'' gesture of the Huskers' defense.
''I've heard a million-and-one times `Welcome to Nebraska,' " Riley told the crowd, ''and I love it.''
Students, support staff and Nebraska coaches wore yellow ''AveryStrong'' T-shirts as part of the Coaches Vs. Cancer campaign and to create awareness for the National Marrow Donor Program. The ''AveryStrong'' movement highlights the fight of Avery Harriman, the 7-year-old son of Nebraska assistant Chris Harriman who has been battling leukemia.
Avery has undergone two bone marrow transplants and had no signs of leukemia during his most recent biopsy this month. Chris Harriman said he hopes ''AveryStrong'' days can be held at all Big Ten arenas next year.
Michigan State travels to Rutgers on Tuesday.
Nebraska faces Michigan in Ann Arbor on Tuesday.