Huskers fall short of a Spartan upset
Lincoln. — Toney McCray and Bo Spencer combined for 29 points, but Keith Appling scored eight of his 14 points in a late second-half run, as No. 16 Michigan State pulled out a 68-55 win at Nebraska Saturday afternoon.
McCray and Spencer led the Huskers' comeback, as Nebraska (8-5, 0-2 Big Ten) chipped away at a 15-point lead to pull within 53-50 after a Spencer 3-pointer with 8:43 left.
Appling then took over, scoring six straight points, as the sophomore hit a driving jumper and then a layup before his two free throws with 4:39 left gave the Spartans (13-2, 2-0 Big Ten) a 59-50 lead. Nebraska would make one last run, as a 3-pointer from McCray, who finished with 14 points and six rebounds before fouling out, and two Spencer free throws made it a four-point game with 3:57 left.
That would be as close as Nebraska would get, as Appling found Austin Thornton for a 3-pointer before the sophomore guard hit two free throws with 1:07 left to put the Spartans up 64-54. Appling finished with 14 points and four assists for MSU, which has won 13 straight games.
The Spartans went 19-of-21 from the foul line, including a perfect 12-for-12 in the second half and enjoyed a 38-24 advantage on the glass.
Spencer came off the bench to lead Nebraska with 15 points, including a trio of 3-pointers, as Nebraska, playing without two of its top three scorers because of injuries, shot 36 percent from the field, including 7-of-25 from 3-point range.
The Huskers played some of their best basketball of the season in the opening 20 minutes, taking a 30-29 lead to the locker room. McCray keyed the hot start with six early points, as Nebraska eventually built a 12-4 lead after Spencer hit back-to-back 3-pointers. NU was stout defensively early on, forcing the Spartans to miss eight of first their nine shots from the floor and shoot 39 percent in the first half.
Michigan State came right back, using a 10-2 run behind the inside game of Draymond Green and Derrick Nix to pull even at 14 before two free throws from Brandon Richardson and a Caleb Walker 3-pointer gave NU a 19-14 lead.
Nebraska eventually pushed the lead to 28-21 after a Brandon Ubel basket, but MSU closed the half on an 8-2 spurt to get within 30-29 at the break.
Green, who finished with a game-high 19 points and eight rebounds, took over in the opening minutes of the second half, scoring 11 points in a 20-4 Spartan surge in the first 6:30 of the second half to give the visitors a 49-35 advantage.
Trailing 53-39, Nebraska relied on its defense to get back in the game, holding MSU without a field goal for nearly five minutes to mount a comeback, as McCray's basket began a run of 11 straight points to make it one-possession game.
The Huskers return to action on Tuesday night when they travel to No. 2 Ohio State. Tipoff is at 5:30 p.m. (central) and will be carried on the Husker Sports Network and on Huskers.com and televised nationally on the Big Ten Network.
*-Josiah Moore made his first career start against Michigan State and is the first freshmen to start for the Huskers since the 2009-10 season (Jorge Brian Diaz vs. Texas A&M in the second round of the Big 12 Tournament).
*-Nebraska starts conference play 0-2 for the first time since 2009-10 following back-to-back losses to No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 16 Michigan State. It is the first time since 2001-02 that NU has faced ranked teams in its first two conference games.
*-Bo Spencer came off the bench to finish with a team-high 15 points, including three 3-pointers, as Nebraska bench totaled 18 points. In the prior three games, the Husker bench had combined for 11 points
*-Toney McCray reached double figures for the fourth straight game with 14 points. It is the only the second time in his career that he has been in double figures in four straight games (other was Feb. 26-March 9, 2011)
*-Nebraska's 25 3-point attempts were a season high and the most since taking 31 against Creighton last season
*-Nebraska was out-rebounded 38-24 against MSU. It was the first time NU had been out-rebounded by at least 10 rebounds since Jan. 22, 2011, against Texas Tech. The larges rebounding deficit NU had prior to Saturday's game was three.
*-Nebraska went 12 of 15 from the foul line, the fifth time this season the Huskers have shot at least 80 percent in a game.
*- Is the first time in five New Year's Eve games Nebraska has lost at home.
*-Christopher Niemann's three rebounds were a season high, as he also had three vs. Rhode Island on Nov. 20.
*-Brandon Richardson had six assists, his second highest total of the year and five rebounds on his 23rd birthday today.
Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo Opening Statement "We're happy to have you (Nebraska) in the Big Ten, number one. You've got a hell of a coach. (Doc) did a better job than me today. He got his team to play as hard as any team we've played this year. I thought early they were swarming, they were moving. I told (Bo) Spencer at the end that he has to play for them because he's a good player. I thought defensively they did a lot of good things and ran some great stuff. It's sad to say but we didn't play very well. I think they had a lot to do with it. I was not disappointed with our effort. I was just disappointed with our execution. I've been telling people we've won 13 in a row, but we are not a great team yet. We are a good team. You get to being a good team by winning games on the road. We took a step in the right direction today. We dealt with some adversity three or four times and withstood it. We weren't really sharp and they deserve a lot of credit for that."
On if he was searching for something with Nebraska's wings "Yeah I was searching a lot. They were hitting shots, so give them credit. We just weren't guarding like we normally do. It's a new offense that we haven't seen before (from Nebraska). I thought we prepared awfully well for it, but when we got in the game, we started going under screens instead of over. They did a good job of that."
On halftime adjustments "We did make a couple of adjustments at halftime. We tried to open up the wing because they were trapping us so much. We freed Keith (Appling) up in there to get a couple of those drives. We didn't think he was coming off those ball screens very well. He was kind of sitting there instead of coming off them with some fire."
Doc Sadler Postgame Quotes - Dec. 31, 2011 Opening Statement: "First of all, I think Michigan State is an excellent basketball team. I don't think they did anything that we weren't expecting. They score in transition and they score on offensive rebounds, and then they grind you on the offense when they don't get one of those two things and that is what they did today. I couldn't be prouder of my team. I thought we played as hard as you can play, and I think we did it for forty minutes. We made some mental mistakes that I don't know if it is from fatigue or what. We made them in the last four minutes that gave them five points and then we had some opportunities if we had just caught the basketball to maybe get some points too. The one free throw that Caleb missed was huge because that would have kept the pressure on them but again, as I told our team in the locker room, I wasn't for sure that our team competed for forty minutes against Wisconsin. I thought we got down and frustrated. Tonight, I think for forty minutes, our guys played as hard as they can play and we just can't make the mistakes that we made against good teams."
On Michigan State being out of synch in the first half and if Doc tweaked anything: "Again, I think more than anything, they are very good in transition. We gave them six points in transition in the first half, so we got three guys back, which is something we have not been doing. We started doubling the post and we are so small in there and maybe that threw them off a bit but I don't know. I think more than anything they missed some shots."
On Sadler's lineup change and if it helped: "I don't know if it helped or not. We will go look at it. I think offensively right now, Bo is one of our better offensive scorers, and we are going to have to get him off of the ball. More than anything, the reason we changed the lineup was that we need to figure out a way to get some guys a rest and not have inexperienced guys in there. I thought Bo coming off with Christopher (Niemann) would get us some offense and I was hoping Christopher would give us some things defensively and getting Brandon back in substituting with Caleb. When you're shorthanded a little bit, you try everything. Sometimes things work, but I don't know if this did or not."
On what it means to be able to get down 15 points but pull the game within three points late:
"I couldn't be prouder. I thought they competed. This team, as I have said all along, is going to win some ball games. I believe that. As long as we continue to compete, you know, we are going to have some shots at it. We just need to figure out how to finish it off. I mean, you're at home with a four or five point deficit with the last four or five minutes, you have to figure out how to get it done. I think we had some opportunities, we just didn't capitalize on them."
On getting closer to those 20 free throws per game: "We drove it and they called fouls. We took it stronger to the basket and created some foul opportunities on some drives and that is something that we did better. We got a couple fouls that was them making hustle plays and we beat them to the ball and there were some collisions there and I do know that we did not get inside as much as we need to get it in there. That's for sure. Again, not to score, it just has to get in there."
On if Sadler was wondering how the team would respond after the Wisconsin game: "Not really. Wisconsin shot 11-21 from three. You aren't beating many teams that do that. Defensively, I thought we were really good after watching the tape. I think they made two 3-pointers today and they lost. Our guys have got too much fight in them. I think they look forward to this, I really do. These were two good teams that we play and we're fixing to play another good team on Tuesday. You had better hook it up. We better not get frustrated too much. Like I told them, we have to learn from our mistakes and I hope that the fatigue part is not the reason they made mistakes but if it is, I don't know what to do about that."
Toney McCray On what Head Coach Doc Sadler's message was when Michigan State took a double-digit lead "We knew they were going to make runs, we knew we were going to make runs, and we got down to that point. We were saying, 'This is what we prepared for all week. This is when the game really starts.' I've been here for five years, and I've seen this all the time in league play. You get down to something like that where you're up five, down five; up three, down three, and whoever executes and does what they're supposed to do and gets their assignments the best is who's going to win."
Bo Spencer On if he felt they were in it until the very end "Yeah, I thought they came out and gave us a good run for our money, they started running and gave us a good run but we answered back for another run. It came down to I think the last six or seven minutes. They didn't make as many mistakes as we did. We've got to limit our mistakes on offense and defense. We had a couple plays and timeouts where we could've executed something, and we didn't. We had a couple fumbled balls we could've had, on some plays we could've executed but didn't.
On if he's starting to see reason to believe "Yeah. We're all coming to practice on the same page. This isn't my first time coming into a season where we've been kind of looked at as the underdogs or something. We'll keep fighting, keep playing. We'll turn it around."
Source: University of Nebraska Athletic Dept.