PREVIEW: MSU men's basketball takes on Nebraska in first game without Harris
MSU men’s basketball (16-11, 8-6 Big Ten) will get its first look without fifth-year senior guard Eron Harris against the University of Nebraska (12-14, 6-8 Big Ten).
Grieving on the hardwood after his right knee severely buckled, Harris was stretchered off the Mackey Arena floor during the matchup against then-No. 16 Purdue.
Head coach Tom Izzo said in his weekly press conference the team will be 100 percent focused on Nebraska — just after a day filled with speeches about Harris.
“If you watched what happened with Eron, and I didn’t know until I got home, I saw the tears in the eyes of the players out on the floor, and it kind of hit me in a weird way, just because of who they were,” Izzo said. “I watched Nick Ward, what he did, I watched Miles (Bridges) and what he did — he was a wreck. I think it gave me a great appreciation for how far Eron has come as a player and as a person.”
Harris’ replacement in the starting lineup could be senior guard Alvin Ellis III or sophomore guard Matt McQuaid. While Ellis is on a hot streak shooting 3-pointers, Izzo said he enjoys Ellis from a bench role. Whoever fills Harris’ spot will be a part of the ninth different lineup for MSU this season.
This year, the Cornhuskers have struggled with consistency. They have two winning streaks of four games, two losing streaks of three games, a five-game losing streak. The Cornhuskers are now on a two-game winning streak.
In its current winning streak, Nebraska demolished the Penn State University Nittany Lions, 82-66, and grinded out a win against the Ohio State University Buckeyes, 58-57.
In MSU’s first game against Nebraska on Feb. 2, five MSU players scored in double figures as freshman forward Miles Bridges led the way with 16 points.
The Spartans defeated the Cornhuskers handily, 72-61. Harris scored three points on 1-for-5 shooting from the floor.
There are two key differences between that game and Thursday’s matchup: Harris’ injury and the return of Nebraska sophomore forward Ed Morrow Jr.
A highly active rebounder, Morrow leads the Cornhuskers with 7.8 rebounds per game.
He is also the third best scorer for Nebraska, averaging 9.6 points per game. Since his return, the Cornhuskers are 2-1; without Morrow, they are 1-6.
Elsewhere, the key to defending Nebraska is no secret — disrupt guards Tai Webster and Glynn Watson Jr.
Watson is a dangerous 3-point shooting threat, averaging 14 points per game this season on 42.6 percent from deep.
Webster is the dominant workhorse, slicing through defenses for 17.7 points per game.
“I think they are one of the best guard tandems when we played them the first time. We were assured they were one of the best guard tandems in the league,” Izzo said. “They are both averaging more than 15 points per game in conference play. I’m sure they will come in with a lot of confidence, considering what they have been through with their last big win on the road and the fact that they have beaten us twice here.”
The game will start the final push toward the Big Ten Tournament with just four games remaining in the regular season for MSU.
While tournament talk remains a hot topic for the Spartans, dropping a game to Nebraska could prove lethal.
The game will tipoff at 7 p.m. at the Breslin Center and will be televised on ESPNU.
“I don’t feel great about where we are, but I feel good that everybody is moving in the same direction and we still have a lot of things to play for,” Izzo said. “There are a lot of teams around the country that are in the same boat or worse off than us, except for our injuries. As they say, you work on things you can control and not on things you can’t control. We can’t control those anymore, so we’ll move forward.”