EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Nebraska Cornhuskers were written off early in the Big Ten season after losing their first four conference games. But following a signature victory over No. 9 Michigan State, the Cornhuskers are dreaming of an NCAA Tournament bid.
Sophomore guard Terran Petteway scored 23 points, including 16 in the second half, to lead Nebraska to a 60-51 upset of the lethargic Spartans on Sunday at the Breslin Center.
The Cornhuskers (14-10 overall, 6-6 Big Ten), who have won five of their last six games, had not beaten a ranked opponent on the road in nearly six years. They also snapped a 10-game losing streak to top-10 opponents and defeated the Spartans for the first time in five games since joining the Big Ten.
“This is a great win for our program, beating Michigan State, one of the elite teams in the country,” Petteway said. “We’ve just got to keep building on that. We can’t let up for the rest of the season.”
Nebraska coach Tim Miles has not shied away from talking to his sophomore-laded team about an NCAA Tournament bid. With the Cornhuskers suddenly .500 in the Big Ten for the first time since joining the conference three seasons ago, that no longer seems like a fantasy.
“I’m doing a disservice to my team if that’s not unconditionally our goal,” Miles said. “It’s always our goal. Now, when we were 0-4 in the league, how are you going to get there, right? At the same time, I think we just worry about our process of getting better every day. Stick with the process and good things will happen.”
Sophomore forward Walter Pitchford scored a career-high 18 points for Nebraska, including four first-half 3-pointers. Sophomore forward Shavon Shields, coming off a career-high 33-point performance against Illinois on Wednesday, chipped in seven points and eight rebounds.
Sophomore guard Gary Harris’ 18 points led Michigan State (21-5, 10-3), which squandered an opportunity to take sole possession of first place in the conference. Wisconsin surprised Michigan, which shares the Big Ten lead, 75-62 earlier Sunday.
“There’s always tough losses in a season,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “This is the toughest so far because I’m so disappointed in how we came out. On the other side of it, I’m not upset at the loss because we got exactly what we deserved.”
Michigan State fell behind by nine points in the first four minutes, trailed by seven at halftime after rallying to take a slim lead, then played catchup throughout the second half. It was held to 34 percent shooting while scoring a season-low in points.
Forward Adreian Payne had 11 points and nine rebounds for Michigan State. Senior point guard Keith Appling, who missed the previous three games with a right wrist sprain, played 19 minutes off the bench but only contributed two points and one assist.
“Nebraska, they were junkyard dogs. They reminded me of some of our old teams,” Izzo said. “They took it at us, they talked it and they walked it. They were tough, played well defensively and made some incredible shots.”
Michigan State was down just 51-49 after Payne’s turnaround jumper in the lane with four minutes left. Petteway’s 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2:32 remaining gave the Cornhuskers some breathing room and a 54-49 lead, and his fast-break layup with 1:08 left made it 56-51.
Nebraska then closed out the victory with free throws.
“Coach said the way to win on the road was to be ahead and stay ahead,” Petteway said. “That’s what we did the whole game. Earlier in the year, we would have probably broken down and given up a bigger run. But we stayed together and came out on top.”
NOTES: Michigan State now leads the all-time series 12-7. Nebraska’s only previous victory at East Lansing was an 85-81 triumph on Dec. 18, 1993. … The Cornhuskers have won 11 of their last 13 games decided by five points or less. … Nebraska’s most recent road win over a ranked opponent prior to Sunday was a 69-59 victory over No. 22 Texas A&M on Feb. 23, 2008, when it was still a member of the Big 12. … The Spartans have used 13 lineups over the last 21 games. … The Spartans have scored at least
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