(Box score here)
As expected, MSU cruised to victory against Nebraska by a score of 62-34. After a slow-paced first half, the Spartans got moving on offense before pulling away. But what the game meant was more important than what happened.
Draymond Green became the fourth player in MSU history to reach 1,000 rebounds, and the Spartans are one win (or one Ohio State loss) away from clinching a share of the Big Ten title, thanks to Purdue's win at Michigan. A goal that seemed too lofty before the season began is close to becoming a reality, but with games at Indiana and against Ohio State remaining, it's far from assured.
MSU jumped out to a 7-0 lead, Nebraska didn't score its first points until nearly five minutes into the game, and the rest of the half was ugly. Despite shooting 50 percent, the Spartans only led 23-15 at halftime. The issue was getting shots on offense. MSU shot just 9-for-18 and had eight turnovers, struggling against a zone defense again.
But in the second half, the Spartans started getting more shots — and making them. MSU made its first 10 shots of the second half and ran away with it in the end. Along the way, Derrick Nix had a steal and his second breakaway dunk of the season and Green picked up his 1,000th rebound.
MSU finished shooting 59 percent (23-for-39), which actually is just their third-best performance in Big Ten play (Iowa, Purdue). On defense, the Cornhuskers shot just 29.2 percent (14-for-48). The 34 points allowed were the fewest for MSU since Nov. 8, 2008 (Brown)
Green finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes. He is right at 1,000 rebounds, putting him 16 behind Antonio Smith for third place in MSU history and 92 behind Greg Kelser for the most.
With Nebraska running a zone defense, the Cornhuskers would collapse on MSU's centers whenever the ball got down low. As a result, Nix was able to pass out for some open jump shots for MSU. Nix finished with points and a career-high five assists.
While he played good defense, Keith Appling struggled on offense, finishing with two points on 1-for-2 shooting, with two assists and five turnovers. He played 32 minutes, as Tom Izzo tried to get some rest for Appling and Green. Early on Brandon Wood played solid. He finished with seven points on 3-for-4 shooting. He also had four rebounds and did a good job handling the ball. He's played much better the last two games, clearly no longer being hindered by his shoulder.
MSU has held its last 11 opponents to 62 points or fewer. No other team in the country has a streak greater than five, according to Dave Revsine of BTN. Nebraska became the 10th straight MSU opponent to make less than half its shots, and the ninth in the last 10 games to make less than 40 percent. The defense is as good as its been under Izzo, who said a Big Ten championship this season would probably be his "most-earned."
But there's still a long ways to go. The Hoosiers have one of the best home-court advantages in college basketball, and wins over Kentucky, Ohio State and Michigan prove such. Last season, Kalin Lucas said the toughest arena he played in was Assembly Hall his freshman year, the last time Indiana was good. If the Spartans fall in Bloomington and Ohio State wins its next two games (vs. Wisconsin, at Northwestern), the Big Ten championship would come down to the final game in East Lansing on March 4. But again, those should be two tough games for the Buckeyes.
Down the stretch they come!