East Lansing, Mich. – Nebraska battled back from a 13-point second-half deficit but could not complete the comeback as the Husker women’s basketball team suffered its first loss of the season with a 72-69 setback to Michigan State at the Breslin Center on Thursday afternoon.
The Big Red slipped to 12-1 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten, while Michigan State improved to 8-6 and 2-1 in the conference. Sam Haiby scored 15 of her team-high 19 points in the second half to help the Huskers rally, while adding seven rebounds, five assists and a career-high six steals.
Haiby’s performance was not enough to offset game highs of 32 points and six assists from Spartan senior Nia Clouden, who hit 15-of-17 free throws while going 8-for-24 from the field on the afternoon. Overall, Michigan State attempted 27 free throws compared to 15 for Nebraska, while the Huskers made 14 of their attempts.
While Nebraska was able to knock down 93.3 percent (14-15) of its free throws, the Huskers struggled to hit shots from start to finish at Michigan State. The Big Red hit a season-low 32.9 percent (24-73) of its shots overall, including just 7-of-33 three-pointers (.212).
Ashley Scoggin led Nebraska from long range by hitting 4-of-8 threes to finish with 12 points, but Jaz Shelley connected on just 2-of-12 shots from beyond the arc including a pair of misses in the final 10 seconds on NU’s last possession when a make could have sent the game to overtime. Shelley finished with eight points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Freshman Alexis Markowski put three Huskers in double figures with 11 points and six rebounds off the bench, including eight points in the second half.
The Huskers struggled through their worst offensive half of the season, hitting just 23.7 percent (9-38) of their shots including just 3-of-18 three-pointers in the first 20 minutes, as the Spartans built a 37-26 halftime lead.
NU trailed 20-13 late in the first quarter before Shelley knocked down the first three of the game to send it to the second quarter at 20-16 Spartans. Scoggin then connected on back-to-back threes in the opening 40 seconds of the second quarter to give the Big Red a brief 22-20 lead.
Following a Clouden three-point play that stopped Nebraska’s 9-0 run, Shelley hit a floater that put Nebraska back up 24-23 with 6:34 left in the half. But the Huskers went more than five minutes without a field goal, and MSU took advantage with a 12-0 run that included six Clouden free throws and a Taiyier Parks putback after a free throw miss by Alisia Smith, who finished the game with 10 points and seven boards.
Alexis Markowski scored on a layup with 1:15 left in the half to stop the Husker drought, but two more Clouden free throws sent Michigan State to the half with a 37-26 lead. Michigan State hit just 37.9 percent (11-29) of its first-half shots, including just 1-of-5 threes, but the Spartans went 14-of-17 at the free throw line, including 10-of-11 from Clouden. MSU outscored NU 14-5 at the free throw line in the first half. Michigan State also out-rebounded the Big Red, 25-22 in the half and won the first-half turnover battle, 6-5.
Clouden finished with 19 first-half points, while Smith added eight points and five rebounds despite battling foul trouble.
Michigan State took its biggest lead at 39-26 on the opening possession of the second half, before Nebraska chipped away. Haiby changed the complexion of the game with three big steals early in the third quarter while also forcing three third-quarter fouls on Clouden.
Clouden played the game’s final 14:23 with four fouls but avoided a fifth foul call. Michigan State still managed to take a 55-48 lead to the fourth quarter, but Annika Stewart came off the bench to score five quick points in the first 50 seconds of the final period to pull Nebraska within two at 55-53.
Haiby kept the Huskers within two points after buckets at 6:11 (62-60) and at 2:00 (66-64) before hitting a pair of free throws with 1:22 left (68-66).
Clouden extended the margin back to 71-66 with 25 seconds left, before Scoggin nailed NU’s final three-pointer with 20 seconds left to make it 71-69.
MSU’s Matilda Ekh sank 1-of-2 free throws with 19 seconds left to complete the scoring. Ekh finished with 12 points and six rebounds, while Taiyier Parks added a big double-double for the Spartans with 10 points and 12 boards.
Michigan State hit 41.4 percent (24-58) of its shots in the game, but was just 2-for-15 (.133) from three-point range. The Spartans, who hit 22-of-27 free throws (.815) won the rebounding battle 45-38, while Nebraska won the turnover battle, 13-8, including an 8-3 edge in the second half.
Nebraska opens home Big Ten action on Tuesday, Jan. 4, when the Huskers play host to No. 8 Michigan. Tip-off with the Wolverines is set for 8 p.m.