No. 9 Michigan State suffers worst loss of the year to Nebraska at home

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Terran Petteway scored 23 points and hit a pair of ridiculous threes to stave off No. 9 Michigan State’s comeback attempts as Tim Miles’ Cornhuskers picked themselves up a statement win by going into the Breslin Center to knock off the Spartans, 60-51.

Nebraska isn’t quite on the bubble yet, and while this win certainly will put them within striking distance, the bottom line is that this was a program win. Nebraska has a tough home court. They can play with anyone in Pinnacle Bank Arena, especially when it’s packed, but going into the toughest environment in the Big Ten?

Beating Tom Izzo in his own building?

That’s not something that anyone can do.

The future is bright in Lincoln, but that’s not the biggest story coming out of this game.

Michigan State has now lost four of their last seven games. Granted, they are not playing at close to full strength just yet. Two of those losses came without Adreian Payne in the lineup. One of them came with Keith Appling on the bench. He returned to action today, but came off the bench, played limited minutes and was largely ineffective and clearly not at 100%. Branden Dawson is still a week away from returning from his broken hand.

In fact, I think you have to go all the way back to their loss to North Carolina, when Gary Harris was battling an ankle issue and Appling first injured his wrist, for when the Spartans were last completely healthy.

That’s more than two months ago, which begs the question: How do we judge this team when it comes to the tournament? They beat Kentucky in the Champions Classic and they beat Oklahoma in Brooklyn, but beyond that, everything that they’ve done this season has come without one of their Big Four players in the lineup.

The eye test — and common-sense — will tell you that a team with that much talent and a head coach the likes of Tom Izzo will be an immediate tournament favorite, but can we really seed a team in the Big Dance based off of that? The Spartans need to prove it with results on the court, they’ll have a chance to in their last four games.

Here is the remainder of Michigan State’s schedule: at Purdue, at Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, at Ohio State. Appling should be back to 100% by next weekend, when Sparty makes the trip to Ann Arbor, and Dawson shouldn’t be out of the lineup much longer than that. They’ll play some tough games with their entire roster, which means that they’ll have a chance to show the selection committee what seed they deserve.

Because on Sunday, it was quite evident just how badly the Spartans miss Appling’s presence at the point.

Credit where credit is due: Nebraska played a heckuva game. But Michigan State made it easy on them. Outside of a 12 minute stretch in the middle of the second half, the Spartans put on a clinic on how to play dumb basketball. They forced quick threes, they committed costly turnovers, they took shots that were too difficult with time left on the shot clock. It seemed like every big possession for the Spartans, every chance they had to take firm control of the momentum, ended up poorly.

Nebraska didn’t make many mistakes. They didn’t turn the ball over and they didn’t let the Spartans get much, if anything, in transition. It all came in the half court, and Michigan State’s execution was, frankly, not good for most of the game.

When that happens, all it takes is a couple of ridiculously difficult threes to end up on the wrong side of an upset.