The 22nd-ranked Michigan State Spartans will attempt to stay perfect on their home floor, as they entertain the Nebraska Cornhuskers in a Big Ten Conference bout on Sunday evening.
After a solid 9-4 run during its non-conference slate, Nebraska's luck has changed since the start of Big Ten play as it has dropped each of its first three league tests. This matchup will be the Cornhuskers third in four games against a ranked opponent on the road, having lost at Ohio state on Jan. 2 (44-70) and at Michigan on Jan. 9 (62-47).
Michigan State began the year in the Top-25 and it has been able to maintain its status by winning 13 of its 16 games, the most impressive of which coming against Kansas in mid-November (67-63). The Spartans began conference play with a loss at nationally-ranked Minnesota on New Year's Eve (76-63), but they have bounced back with consecutive wins over Purdue (84-61) and Iowa (62-59).
The Spartans have won five of six meetings against Nebraska when playing in East Lansing, and they own a 10-6 advantage in the all-time series as a result.
Nebraska shot less than 34 percent from the field in its 15-point loss at Michigan, and in the process scored fewer than 50 points for the third straight game. Ray Gallegos tallied a game-high 19 points, but he shot just 7- of-21 from the field, including 4-of-16 from 3-point range. Dylan Talley added 12 points and five assists, while Brandon Ubel ripped down 10 rebounds. The Cornhuskers' recent struggles at the offensive end have lowered their scoring average to 58.4 ppg, which ranks last in the Big Ten. Their poor shooting (.418 FG percentage) has all but spoiled a defensive effort that allows fewer than 61 ppg. Talley and Gallegos are the team's co-leading scorers at 13.4 ppg, and the two have combined to drill 64 of the team's 75 3-point baskets. Ubel brings stability to the frontcourt, averaging 12.1 ppg and 6.8 rpg, while at the same time putting forth stellar percentages from both the field (.497) and the foul line (.793).
Michigan State was trailing in its contest against Iowa with just over a minute left in regulation, when Gary Harris was fouled attempting a 3-pointer and drilled all three free throws to tie the game at 56-56. Branden Dawson dunked home the game-winner on MSU's next possession as it stole an impressive road conference win. Dawson led the way with 17 points, while Harris added 14 points on 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc. Keith Appling struggled from the floor (3-of-13), but he still finished with 12 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Adreian Payne tacked on 10 points coming off the bench. On the season, the Spartans have connected on nearly 47 percent of their field goal attempts in netting 70.6 ppg, although in a highly competitive Big Ten their scoring offense ranks in the lower-half of the league. The guard-heavy starting lineup is anchored by the play of Appling (14.2 ppg, 4.4 apg) and Harris (13.1 ppg), while Dawson (10.4 ppg) does much of the dirty work with 6.1 rpg, 1.9 spg and 1.2 bpg. Derrick Nix (8.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Payne (8.1 rpg, 7.4 rpg) help MSU claim a plus-8.5 rebounding margin. The team's play at the defensive end is top notch as well, ranking second in the conference in by allowing opponents a mere 57.8 ppg.