After nearly a month without games due to COVID-19, Nebraska men’s basketball continued its losing streak in its return to action, falling to Michigan State 66-56.
The loss was the Huskers’ sixth straight, as they dropped to 0-6 in conference play. The Spartans finished their season sweep of Nebraska, as they also won 84-77 against the Huskers in Lincoln on Jan. 2.
Here are three takeaways from the loss:
Sloppy basketball all around
Neither Nebraska nor Michigan State has been known for clean basketball this season, but this game was especially messy for both sides.
The Huskers had their third-most turnovers of the year, giving it away 17 times in total. The only games where they recorded more turnovers were against Creighton, where they had 25, and an 18-turnover showing in the last matchup against the Spartans. On the other side, Michigan State had a season-high 22 turnovers as well.
Each team had four players with at least three turnovers, including sophomore guard Dalano Banton’s four and sophomore guard Rocket Watts’s five. Banton also fouled out.
During a mere three-minute stretch in the first half, the two teams combined for seven total turnovers, while scoring just five points on seven field goal attempts. In the second half with Nebraska down just nine at the 10-minute mark, the Huskers and Spartans combined for four straight turnovers in less than a minute.
Even then, neither team truly capitalized off the other’s mistakes. Nebraska scored 17 points off of turnovers, while Michigan State scored just nine.
One of Nebraska’s best chances to complete a comeback came late, as junior forward Derrick Walker cut the lead to eight with under four minutes to go. Michigan State countered with a made jumper, and the next two Husker possessions ended in turnovers.
Nebraska struggled on offense in multiple ways in the loss, but the lack of ball security was an especially glaring shortcoming, which still may have been overshadowed by the Spartans’ problems in the same area.
Nebraska’s shooting struggles return
To close out December, Nebraska had three very poor shooting performances, not breaking 70 points or shooting over 40% from the field in losses to Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State.
However, Nebraska seemed to be getting in somewhat of a rhythm in early January, shooting 49.1% from the field and 47.1% from beyond the arc in a higher-scoring loss to the Spartans. The Huskers then shot 45.6% in their next game, an 84-76 loss to Indiana.
On Saturday, Nebraska didn’t come close to replicating that January production. The Huskers shot 36.2% and 17.6% from 3-point range en route to their third sub-60 point performance of the year. After junior forward Lat Mayen opened scoring for Nebraska with a 3-pointer, the team missed its next 11 shots from long range, and didn’t hit another until there was just under 11 minutes left in the game.
While the Huskers stayed within 10 points for a significant portion of the second half, the comeback seemed nearly impossible due to their inability to make shots.
That being said, Nebraska’s offense did see improvement in the last 20 minutes, shooting 46.7% from the field and 25% from 3-point range. While that production proved to be too little too late, and still isn’t wildly impressive, it helped the Huskers keep the game relatively competitive.
Season-best defensive performance keeps Huskers close
Nebraska’s poor offensive performance was somewhat remedied by a strong showing defensively.
Apart from forcing 22 turnovers, the Huskers held the Spartans to a low 39% shooting, marking Nebraska’s best defensive performance of conference play. The only team to score less points than Michigan State this year against Nebraska is Doane.
Perhaps more impressive than holding the Spartans’ shooting down as a team was the Huskers’ ability to slow down junior forward Joey Hauser once again. In January, Hauser had a season-low five points on 1-of-4 shooting with three turnovers. On Saturday, he was held scoreless on 0-of-3 shooting with two turnovers, and fouled out late in the second half.
Still, Michigan State played well enough offensively to come out with the win. Senior guard Joshua Langford and junior forward Aaron Henry combined for 34 of the Spartan’s 66 points on 13-of-26 combined shooting.
With the Huskers’ inconsistency on offense this year, their best bet to win a game in conference play may be continuing to put together strong defensive performances like this one.