No. 23 Michigan State fell short against the Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-4) as Nebraska’s interior defense held the Spartans and Nia Clouden in check.
Post play was a crucial factor for both squads in this one as Nebraska came in with the Big Ten’s fourth-best rebounding team as well as the league’s second-best shot-blocker in Kate Cain at 2.6 blocks per game.
Michigan State looked to try and cement their presence in the post early by feeding it down low to Taiyier Parks, Alisia Smith and other cutters to the basket, but Nebraska was dominant on the defensive end of the floor. The Cornhuskers forced Parks to turn the ball over as well as commit travels underneath the basket by using double teams when she got to the rim. Ultimately, the length and height of the Cornhuskers shut down opportunities at the rim for the Spartans.
The Nebraska guards also played a key role in taking advantage of the Spartans' inability to score in the post by scoring on the other end as Isabelle Bourne and Ashley Scoggin combined for 17 in the first quarter alone.
As the Cornhuskers began to gap the Spartans in the second half, even leading by 10 at one point, the Spartans made adjustments as they looked to climb back into the game by instituting a zone defense and full-court press.
The Cornhuskers adjusted themselves as they tangled with the Spartans' zone defense by passing around the perimeter for open shots and hit three massive threes as the shot clock closed in on zero. Those three 3-pointers late in the shot clock were the difference in the first half as Nebraska led 39-30 at the half.
Clouden, who was fresh off of a 32-point career-high and passing the 1,000 point milestone during her time at MSU, was largely held in check in the first half — shooting 1-for-6 for three points in the first half.
Those adjustments began to pay dividends for the Spartans in the third quarter as they came out the gates red hot with a 16-4 run to get their first lead since the first quarter. Tory Ozment played a huge role in that run with a pair of steals and six points.
“She really brought, I thought, in the second half,” Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant said. “She competed, and that was the difference. I thought the first half we were just playing the game versus really competing. I thought Tory came out and set the tone that way. She plays hard, and she plays within the flow of the game.”
After shooting a stellar 5-of-7 from beyond the arc in the first half, the Cornhuskers went cold. Only shooting 0-of-4 as well as only making 26.7% of their field goals in the third as the Spartans gained control.
However, the Spartans would quickly cool off in the fourth as Nebraska regained control on behalf of some good defense translating into quick offense on the other end.
Down three with under a minute left, the Spartans looked to get a quick basket from Clouden in the midrange, but that shot was a bit long as Nebraska forced a turnover and sank one of two free throws on the other end to make it a two-possession game.
After a pair of missed free throws, the Spartans were down three with a chance to tie, but Alyza Winston's three fell short as Nebraska defeated Michigan State.
Clouden scored a season-low 14 on the night in the Spartans loss as she fouled out late in the fourth quarter.
The rest of the Spartans' roster picked up the slack as the other four starters of Parks, Ozment, Julia Ayrault and Winston combined for 35 on the night. Parks would leave the game late in the fourth with a left leg injury but remained on the floor with crutches as the game came to a close.
With the help of the Spartans’ press, the Spartans forced 17 turnovers on the night in addition to holding Nebraska to 43.5% shooting.
However, Nebraska’s Bourne came up huge in this game especially in the first half as she went on to score 18 points on the night. The Cornhuskers were lethal from beyond the arc, shooting 42.9%, hitting six.
Bourne would leave the game with a lower leg injury late in the fourth.
The Spartans will begin a road trip on Thursday against a Illinois team (2-6) who is desperate for a win and end the road trip in Ann Arbor against their rival Michigan next Monday.
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“Yeah, we definitely can’t dwell on it,” Winston said. “We have Illinois, and right after that we have a really tough game streak. We have Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, and then Michigan and Indiana again. We need to come into Illinois strong and pull that one out so that we can get back on our scoring streak. We definitely can’t dwell on it. Everybody is a tough team this year.”
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