Less than 48 hours after snapping Nebraska men’s basketball’s four-game winning streak on Tuesday, Michigan State all but spoiled Nebraska women’s basketball’s hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid by beating the Huskers 67-64 in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Despite Nebraska winning the turnover (20-18), rebounding (38-33), and 3-point shooting (36% compared to 27%) battles, they couldn’t pull out the win. The problem for Nebraska was its low overall field goal percentage, shooting a measly 19-of-58 for a 33% clip, including going 9-of-30 on 2-pointers. The Huskers were outscored 36-18 in the paint, a huge reason why the Spartans came away with the win.
Nebraska struggled the most in the opening and closing quarters. Michigan State got out to an early 7-0 lead in less than two minutes into the game and forced Nebraska head coach Amy Willaims to call an early timeout. Even after junior guard Jaz Shelley hit a 3-pointer to get the Huskers on the board out of the break, they continued to struggle putting points on the scoreboard.
It took Nebraska four minutes after the Shelley 3-pointer to cash in another bucket. In the first quarter, the Spartans scored half of their points off turnovers, scoring eight off of the Huskers’ seven giveaways. Nebraska only scored nine points in the first quarter, but the defense pulled its weight to hold the deficit to 16-9 heading into the second quarter.
The Huskers stopped the bleeding in the second quarter. Nebraska outscored Michigan State 16-14 in the period to cut into the lead. The Huskers accomplished this in part by hitting 3-of-6 shots from behind the 3-point line in the quarter — Shelley draining two of them — compared to the Spartans going 1-of-4.
Senior guard Sam Haiby cut the lead to one point with a 3-pointer with 1:30 left in the first half, but Spartan sophomore guard Matilda Ekhdrew a foul on a 3-point attempt and made all three free throws to push the lead back to 29-25 in a low-scoring first half. There were a combined 23 turnovers in the first half, with Nebraska committing 10 of them. Shelley was the only double-digit scorer for the Huskers in the first half with 10 points.
Nebraska clawed its way back in the third quarter. The Huskers once again outscored Michigan State by two points, this time 19-17, to take their first and only lead of the game in the third period. After trailing for the first 27:24 of the game, Nebraska suddenly took a 41-40 advantage with 2:36 left in the third quarter off of two made free throws by Shelley. Michigan State retook the lead heading into the final frame, but the Huskers only trailed 46-44.
Had the Huskers outscored Michigan State by two points in the fourth quarter as they had in the second and third, the game would have headed to overtime. The Spartans had other ideas, however. After Nebraska took its first lead of the game, Michigan State embarked on a 17-3 run, including an 11-0 stretch to start the fourth quarter. After clawing back from the 7-0 start to the game, Nebraska once again had a hole to dig itself out of. That stretch resulted in the Spartan’s biggest lead of the game with a score of 57-44. The Huskers, knowing their back was against the wall, responded with their own 8-0 run to cut down the lead.
Michigan State held an eight-point advantage with 1:06 left in the game with a score of 67-59. In the final minute of a must-win game for two bubble teams, Nebraska held the Spartans scoreless, giving itself a chance at a comeback. With 50 seconds left, Shelley forced a turnover by Ekh, and the Huskers quickly got the ball over to junior forward Isabelle Bourne, who drained a 3-pointer from the left elbow to cut the lead to 67-64 after a pair of free throws the previous possession.
After a Michigan State timeout, Haiby drew a charge with 15 seconds remaining to give Nebraska the ball back with a chance to tie the game. Williams called a timeout to draw up a play. Out of the timeout, Shelley came off a screen at the top of the key and heaved a 3-pointer, but missed. With time still left on the clock, Shelley retrieved her own rebound and kicked it out to sophomore guard Maddie Krull in the right elbow for a wide-open 3-pointer, but the shot fell just short as time expired.
Shelley led the way for the Huskers with 24 points on 5-of-10 shooting from behind the 3-point line. Haiby tallied 14 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals for an all-around strong performance, and sophomore center Alexis Markowski notched another double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds. After tallying 20 points and nine rebounds in Nebraska's 71-67 win against Michigan State earlier in the season, Bourne was held to eight points and four rebounds.
Nebraska’s chances of making the NCAA tournament are now increasingly low after an early Big Ten tournament exit. The Huskers were one of the first four teams out of the tournament in ESPN’s latest bracketology before the game and will now likely be heading to the WNIT. That marks a relative disappointment for a team coming off an NCAA Tournament berth last season and entered this season as the No. 22 team in the preseason AP poll.