In the moments after Tom Izzo had left the podium, the Spartans’ head coach still shook his head baffled.
How could his guards shoot a combined 4-for-26? And, equally perplexing, how could his team still find a way to win?
The No. 22 MSU men’s basketball team (14-3 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) gutted out another ugly, rugged Big Ten win, knocking off Nebraska (9-8, 0-4) 66-56, Sunday night at Breslin Center.
“I have no idea why we look so lethargic, or actually why we missed so many shots,” Izzo said.
“Practices were good, shootaround today was great, but I am very disappointed in that performance and yet very respectful of what Nebraska did.”
The Cornhuskers used an 11-2 run to take a 23-19 lead with 7:58 to go in the first half, and maintained the lead for most of the period, before a couple free throws from Derrick Nix tied the game at 32 at the end of the first half.
The Spartans’ senior center would go on to lead MSU in scoring with 17 points, including 11 in the second half.
“It’s a confidence builder, so I can use that momentum going into the next game,” Nix said.
“But at the end of the day I worked on everything that I do, so if (shots) don’t go in, then I can mind battle with myself or I can just say ‘it’s going to go in next game.’ Sometimes I feel myself shooting too many shots or getting out of my game, but I was solid, I took what the defense gave me and I was able to finish.”
With the score tied at 50 and 6:50 remaining, the Spartans closed the game on a 16-6 run, with Nix pacing the Spartans down the stretch.
Adreian Payne, who finished with 14 points off the bench said Nix played the way a senior captain is supposed to play, and hopes to log more minutes alongside his fellow center in the future.
“The times that we’re in (together) I think we’re better defensively,” Payne said. “If coach gets more confidence in me playing the four and (Nix) at the five I think we’d be much better.”
Still, Izzo said he remains concerned that his team too often plays to the level of its competition.
Nix agreed, describing Sunday’s performance as typical of a season-long problem.
“It’s better to know that you’ve got some winnable games than some loseable one’s because the loseable ones will mess you up,” Nix said.
“I thought we did it in the preseason, we played down to our competition, and I feel like that’s what we did and it almost got us, but we were able to pull away.”