EAST LANSING, Mich. — Kenny Goins and Matt McQuaid have been role players for much of their careers at Michigan State.
On the same night and in timely fashion, the seniors were stars for the ninth-ranked Spartans.
Goins scored 21 of his career-high 24 points in the first half and McQuaid finished with a career-best 22, leading Michigan State to a 91-76 win over Nebraska on Tuesday.
“It’s our last week in the Breslin and both of us are trying to go out with a bang,” Goins said.
Goins and McQuaid, along with freshman Aaron Henry, who scored a season-high 15 points, made up for Cassius Winston matching his season low with eight points.
Winston was slowed by knee tendinitis.
“Nothing that will linger,” coach Tom Izzo insisted.
The Spartans (24-6, 15-4 Big Ten) close the regular season against No. 7 Michigan (26-4, 15-4) at home Saturday night with at least a share of the conference championship at stake. No. 11 Purdue lost at Minnesota, dropping the Boilermakers into a three-way tie with Michigan State and the Wolverines.
“With a championship at stake, that just adds that much more,” Goins said.
The Cornhuskers (15-15, 5-14) have lost four in a row and 11 of 13 in what might be Tim Miles ‘ final season as their coach. Relatively speaking, they bounced back after an 82-53 loss at Michigan.
“That was such a disappointment,” Miles said. “We’ve got to have more in us than that and tonight we did. There are no moral victories, but at the same time, we fought back to seven.”
Nebraska’s James Palmer matched his season high with 30 points. Glynn Watson equaled his season best with 25 points while Isaiah Roby added 10 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Michigan State started slowly before taking control and leading 47-29 at halftime after Goins was 5 of 5 on 3-pointers and McQuaid scored 13 in the opening 20 minutes.
“The basket looked huge in the first half,” Goins said.
Goins entered scoring 7.8 points per game and the former walk-on averaged 3.4 or fewer points over his first three seasons.
“He’s a self-made guy,” Miles said. “He went from a guy not in the scouting report years ago to going out and having a great night.”
McQuaid topped his previous best scoring game with a 3 midway through the second half to give the Spartans a 69-55 advantage after Nebraska rallied to pull within seven points.
“He’s playing some of his best basketball,” Izzo said.
Nebraska: Miles fired back at a heckling fan who shouted his name and said he was going to get fired. “You think so?” Miles asked. “Maybe they’ll hire you.”
Miles is 112-112 at Nebraska, which would have to give him a $2.52 million buyout if the school fires him with two years left on his contract.
“It’s been a tough run for him, but his team had enough character to not quit,” Izzo said.
Michigan State: Henry played the way Izzo hopes he can for the rest of the season. The shooting guard entered averaging just 4.9 points per game. He has not looked confident starting in place of Joshua Langford, who had season-ending foot surgery.
“He did a good job of being aggressive,” McQuaid said. “He hit that 3 and that really got him going. He was on the boards and he was looking for his shot.”
The Spartans, already without Nick Ward and Langford, were missing Kyle Ahrens because of a back injury. Izzo isn’t sure how long Ahrens will be out. Izzo doesn’t expect Ward , who had surgery on his left hand last month, to play against Michigan.
Ward’s shooting hard was broken and repaired, adding an obstacle to his comeback.
“I’ve learned I can do a lot of things with either hand,” he said. “It’s harder, but I can do it.”
Nebraska guard Thomas Allen, who averages 8.7 points, was on the bench with a walking boot on his left foot after being injured last week against Michigan.
Michigan State’s 1959 Big Ten championship team , which was led by Jumpin’ Johnny Green, was honored on the court during the game.
Nebraska: Will play Iowa at home on Sunday.
Michigan State: Hosts the rival Wolverines on Saturday night.
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