Nebraska men’s basketball beat Michigan State 77-70 Sunday night, halting a two-game losing streak to improve to 8-2 on the year.
The back-and-forth affair featured 15 lead changes, but the Huskers came out on top as they led for the final 1:44 of the game.
Here are three takeaways from the win.
Second Half Key in Big Win
Nebraska’s encouraging win tonight followed a disappointing loss to Minnesota earlier this week.
The biggest difference between the two games could be found in the second-half performances.
The Huskers went into halftime up 15 against the Gophers, but struggled out of the break in surrendering an 18-3 run. They turned it over 12 times and shot 7-for-24 in the second half on the way to the loss.
Sunday night, however, was different. Nebraska trailed after the first 20 minutes, kept afloat partially by some desperation 3s that went down, but 64% shooting and two turnovers in the second half helped it charge ahead.
“I thought we learned a lot from that [Minnesota] game. And our guys were locked in in the film session that next morning and went out and had two really good, hard, physical days of practice preparing for a very tough Michigan State team,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said postgame. “That’s something that I give our guys a lot of credit for, is learning from the mistakes that we made.”
The Huskers opened the second half on an 11-2 run capped off by a Keisei Tominaga 3. The run included the first points of the game from Brice Williams and Jamarques Lawrence, who combined to shoot 0-for-7 in the first half.
For the next 10 minutes, Nebraska never trailed and held a slim lead through most of that time. But Michigan State wouldn’t go away, and Tyson Walker made one more big push for the Spartans late. Back-to-back 3s for the guard put his team up three with 4:54 to go, and a layup restored that advantage with 3:11 left.
Nebraska certainly could have fallen off and taken the loss from there, but it didn’t. Juwan Gary responded with a made shot, and Walker’s next attempt was off target. Williams, as part of a 14-point second half, nailed a go-ahead 3, and Nebraska never relinquished its advantage after Tominaga sunk two free throws with 1:44 remaining in the game.
The Huskers made their final eight free-throw attempts to seal the win.
“It was good to see those guys step up and knock down the free throws; we need to continue to make our free ones,” Hoiberg said. “Especially in crunch time, when you get under two minutes, those one-and-ones, especially if you can knock those down and keep it two or three possessions.”
While Michigan State dropped to 4-5 on the year, it was still an impressive win for the Huskers. The Spartans came into the year with high outside expectations, and while they’ve already disappointed some in that regard, their previous four losses were to currently ranked teams. Michigan State still has a talented squad, and Nebraska was able to come out on top against it.
Juwan Gary Stars in First Start of Season
Starting forward Josiah Allick was held out for Sunday’s game with an ankle injury after being listed as questionable on the team’s availability report.
As a result, Juwan Gary entered the starting lineup for the first time this season, and he delivered. He scored 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting while coming up with two blocks and three steals on the defensive end. He sparked the strong start to the second half with a steal and finish on the other end, and finished the game despite some minor injuries in the second half.
Gary has been one of the team’s best players since returning from injury early this season, scoring double-digits in all but one of the seven games he’s played.
“Juwan’s energy out of the gate was great. It just was exactly what he does when he comes off the bench,” Hoiberg said. “It doesn’t change the person or the player that Juwan is, he’s going to go out there and compete every time he’s on the floor.”
Huskers Match Spartans in Physicality
In both Big Ten games they’ve played, the Huskers have been even with their foes in the rebound battle.
However, that was another difference in recent second halves. They were out-rebounded 21-12 after the half against Minnesota, but earned a 16-13 second-half advantage on the boards in the win over the Spartans.
The contest was a physical one at numerous points, and Nebraska held its own in those stretches. Rienk Mast’s stat line was highlighted by 14 rebounds, 10 of those coming in the final 20 minutes.
It showed on the offensive end, too. Tominaga’s 15 points included some signature highlight-reel 3s, but he was able to fight through contact as well. The star guard drew one foul against Walker while looking to get in position for a post-up. He got the best of Walker again to set up the go-ahead free throws — working through some hand-fighting, driving past him and getting the bump from behind on a short pull-up.
The performance wasn’t at all perfect on either end, but the Huskers showed plenty of grit in earning the victory.