Nebraska coach Tim Miles refused to be content with being competitive after getting routed in his last two Big Ten road games.
David Rivers, though, gave Miles something to feel good about.
Rivers made the most of his first career start, scoring 18 points in Nebraska's 66-56 loss to No. 22 Michigan State on Sunday.
"We were looking for a little bit of a different lineup," Miles said. "I believe in David. I believe he can do good things for us.
"He showed that he's a capable player."
Rivers connected on all eight of his shots, including a 3-pointer, and made his only free throw. He was two points short of his career high in a breakout performance for a player averaging 5-plus points a game.
"I was more focused," he said. "I knew someone had to step up and it just happened to be me who made some shots."
The Cornhuskers (9-8, 0-4 Big Ten) had a shot to win their first conference game this season, but couldn't convert late in the game and failed to stop the Spartans (14-3, 3-1) when it mattered most.
Nebraska's Dylan Talley scored 17 points and Ray Gallegos had 12.
The Cornhuskers, who lost their two previous Big Ten road games to Michigan and Ohio State by an average of 20-plus points, were very competitive for much of the game at Michigan State.
"We're not in it for any sort of consolation prize," Miles said. "We want to win the game.
"Credit Michigan State, they made winning plays. We had a bad shot and two turnovers late that hurt us. We don't have enough things going our way to make errors late in the game."
Derrick Nix made two free throws with a minute left and finished with 17 points to help Michigan State pull away. Spartans reserve Adreian Payne scored 14 points and Branden Dawson had 12 points.
Michigan State — and Dawson in particular — got a scare early in the second half when he was on the ground, grabbing his surgically repaired left knee after tumbling to the court.
Gallegos was called for a foul when he trailed Dawson on his layup attempt.
"He really didn't clip me," Dawson said. "When I planted, the knee buckled."
Dawson later walked slowly off the court toward the locker room and was cleared to return much to the delight of the fans, who gave him a standing ovation. The sophomore standout showed his knee was very healthy in the final seconds, soaring to slam an alley-oop pass from Keith Appling for the final basket.
Michigan State didn't have much else to cheer about until late in a closely contested game.
Nix broke a 50-all tie with a layup with 6:17 left and Appling later connected on three free throws to give the Spartans a five-point lead, matching their largest to that time. After Nebraska pulled within a point, freshman Gary Harris responded with a 3-pointer that put Michigan State ahead 58-54 with 1:49 remaining during a 14-4 run.
The Huskers were without Brandon Ubel, who missed the game with an elbow injury. The 6-foot-10 senior is Nebraska's leading rebounder and third-leading scorer.
Cornhuskers center Andre Almeida was held scoreless, getting outscored by his Michigan State counterparts by 31.
"Their big kids went 12 of 15 and our center was 0 for 4," Miles said. "We need Andre to match those guys if we're going to be successful."
Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage