After picking up her second foul with 10:52 remaining in the first half, Nebraska senior forward and reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Jordan Hooper was called to the bench.
Minus the star senior, Nebraska raised its level of play to a new height, outscoring MSU 34-16 the rest of the first period to build a 50-27 lead at halftime.
It ultimately was an early grave for the Spartans (22-9 overall, 13-4 Big Ten), who fell to the Huskers 86-58 in the semifinal round of the Big Ten tournament. Nebraska advances to the championship round, where they will face Iowa at 1 p.m.
"That could quite possibly be the worst game we've ever played," head coach Suzy Merchant said during the post game press conference. "Give Nebraska a lot of credit. Their upperclassmen and leaders really showed up, set the tone early. And then it was just kind of a snowball effect."
Nebraska shot 63.3 percent in the first half and 54.2 percent for the game.
At times, it seemed as though they could not miss, sinking open jumpers, contested jumpers, making the most of fast break opportunities and finishing layups through traffic.
"We had a good game plan and everything like that," senior forward Annalise Pickrel said. Everyone was ready, everyone was motivated for the game. I feel like, like tonight, we beat ourselves definitely."
Nebraska junior guard Tear'a Laudermill had 20 points and three steals, and junior guard Rachel Theriot had 18 points and eight assists.
To MSU's surprise, Nebraska freshman forward Allie Havers, who averaged just three points per game during the regular season, was a major catalyst, setting career highs in points (17), assists (3), and blocks (3) in only 19 minutes of action.
"Kids who don't make scouting reports or play in the rotation are double figure scorers," Merchant said. "We really didn't play well together, we really didn't have good leadership from our vets."
The Spartans were led in scoring by redshirt freshman Branndais Agee with 18 points, who was a bright spot during the tournament.
Junior forward Becca Mills had 15 points and six rebounds, and redshirt freshman guard Aerial Powers had 10 points and 12 rebounds. Merchant lamented MSU's perceived lack of veteran leadership after the game.
Defensively, the Spartans failed to get stops possession after possession. MSU never got closer to within 18 during the second half.
"I think that we mentally had a brain lapse, I don't know. We just weren't defending," senior guard Klarissa Bell said. "Laudermill had three 3's, or whatever it was. When she gets hot, she gets hot and she keeps hitting shots. I think (Havers) came in and gave them good minutes during that stretch. Things weren't going well for us. We couldn't stop them from scoring."
Curiously, Merchant decided not to use her timeout during the first half run.
Her reasoning was that she wanted to see her team step up.
In the end, she said, the timeout wouldn't have made a difference.
"I felt like it was one of those things where watching it, quite honestly, our kids were really making tons of excuses, quite frankly, and I was sick of it," Merchant said. "Sometimes you gotta learn a lesson and play though it. I didn't think it would matter, as bad as that sounds.
"Sometimes, you need to own up and be accountable and gut things out, and I don't think it would have made a difference. You have a media timeout every four minutes, you can get yourselves together at that point sometimes."