LINCOLN — Isaiah Roby’s missed 3-pointer bounced near the base line, and nearly everyone on the court stopped and looked back to the bench for a play call.
But James Palmer kept going.
He leapt out of bounds and swatted the ball back into play. It bounced once and found the hands of Glynn Watson, who took one dribble and lofted a floater from 7 feet. The shot crawled off the rim, and in a scrum in the lane, Isaac Copeland dived and tripped over a Michigan State defender, the ball just out of reach. It fell into the hands of Kenny Goins, who tossed an outlet pass to Cassius Winston. Roby, back-peddling near midcourt, swatted a pass up into the air intended for Aaron Henry near the rim. But the ball bounced off the backboard and into the arms of Henry anyway, and he tossed in a score to give Michigan State its largest lead of the night at seven.
Groans grew from the standing-room-only crowd at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Roby shook his head and ran back to offense. Nebraska was so close on Thursday. Michigan State was just a little better.
The Huskers battled with the beast of the Big Ten for 40 minutes, but No. 6 Michigan State broke Nebraska’s 20-game home winning streak with a 70-64 road victory. Winston scored 29 points and dished out six assists for the Spartans, who as a team shot 44 percent from the floor and turned the ball over 15 times. Nebraska (13-5, 3-4) could not find easy shots against Michigan State’s length, shooting 32.8 percent from the floor and just 5 for 26 from 3-point range. Palmer scored a team-high 24 points, but was 6 for 21 and made just one of his first 11 shots.
“Each time we go out we just try to show we can compete with anybody in the country,” Palmer said. “We were right there with them. We just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Neither team led by more than five points for the first 35 minutes. Michigan State (16-2, 7-0) took a 33-28 lead into halftime thanks to a late 7-0 run. It was tied at 44 midway through the second, but after a few bad breaks for NU, Michigan State pulled away and led by as many as 12.
“I think we got disappointed,” coach Tim Miles said.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said he and his staff have been paranoid about this game considering the Huskers are one of the more efficient offenses and defenses in the country. But Michigan State just overwhelmed Nebraska on the defensive end, forcing the Huskers into bad, low-percentage shots. Copeland scored 13 points, but was 5 for 12. Watson scored eight points but was 3 for 13.
Nebraska was just 12 for 26 at the rim.
“We missed some easy ones,” Watson said.
Miles said he didn’t like his team’s shot selection overall and Michigan State did a good job of imposing its will. Michigan State is the best rebounding team in the country, but only outrebounded Nebraska 42-38.
But Winston just got away from Nebraska too many times, Miles said. Senior forward Nick Ward made just his second 3 ever, and Winston banked in a 3-pointer in the second half.
“Solid,” Miles said of his team’s defense. “I didn’t think we were great.”
Against a larger Michigan State team, Nebraska didn’t shy away from a fight. They drove hard to the hoop looking for contact, they fouled hard on the other end to force tough shots for Michigan State. That aggressiveness panned out in the final minute. Despite trailing by 10 with 44 seconds left, Nebraska made it interesting with two dunks from Nana Akenten and an and-1 from Palmer. Nebraska was within four with 14 seconds left, but Michigan State made free throws down the stretch.
“I like Tim Miles’ team, I think his team is really good. I don’t think they played as good tonight,” Izzo said. “Nebraska is going to win a lot of games. They are a very, very good team.”
Nebraska didn’t stop fighting, but that’s nothing to be really proud of, both players and Miles said.
“There are no moral victories, nothing,” Miles said. “I am utterly mad and disappointed.”
His team was, too. When asked if the team was frustrated with the loss, Copeland forcefully said no.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Copeland said.
Copeland and the rest of the players left the media room in silence. Miles then leaned into the mic.
“I’d say they were frustrated.”