EAST LANSING, Mich. – Nebraska coach Doc Sadler had seen enough from some of his starters, sending them to the bench when No. 6 Michigan State began to pull away in the second half of a 62-34 rout Saturday night.
Cornhuskers center Christopher Niemann looked at the end of the bench and said, "Get ready" to freshman forward Kye Kurkowski, who played 2 minutes in his first game last week.
A few minutes later, Sadler saw senior Caleb Walker sitting next to Kurkowski and waved at the starter in disgust and walked away without putting him back in the game. Alas, Kurkowski didn't play at Michigan State.
Sadler was upset that some of his players weren't hustling back on defense after turnovers.
"I don't care what the score is, we're going to try to do it the right way," Sadler said. "And, the right way is to play as hard as you can play."
The last-place Cornhuskers (12-15, 4-12 Big Ten) have lost six of seven.
Nebraska's chances to at least be competitive against Big Ten-leading Michigan State (24-5, 13-3) took a hit when leading scorer Bo Spencer didn't play after injuring his left ankle in the final seconds of the first half.
Sadler said he had "no idea" how seriously Spencer was hurt.
The senior guard struggled before he got hurt, missing his first four shots and being held scoreless until making his only shot of the game about 2 minutes before halftime.
Nebraska didn't have a double-digit scorer until Brandon Ubel made a 3-pointer with 6:31 remaining. Ubel finished with 13 points.
"Brandon has been put in a tough situation with his back to the basket," Sadler said. "He's just going to do the best he can do and he's going to compete."
Michigan State's Draymond Green had 20 points and 10 rebounds — becoming the fourth in school history with 1,000 career rebounds — to help his team pull within a win of clinching at least a share of the Big Ten title.
Green stayed in the lopsided game long enough to grab his 10th rebound with 5 minutes left and a 30-point lead to join Greg Kelser, Johnny Green and Antonio Smith as the only Michigan State players with 1,000 boards.
"I was hoping he'd get it while he's home because he deserved it," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "That's a very small club and one that I'm glad he got to celebrate being a part of with our fans."
The first-place Spartans lead No. 8 Ohio State by 1 1/2 games and No. 11 Michigan by two games in the conference race with three games left in the regular season for the Buckeyes, who close the regular season at Michigan State. Ohio State can pull back within a game by beating Wisconsin at home Sunday.
If the Spartans win Tuesday night at Indiana or next Sunday at home against Ohio State, they will earn at least a share of the Big Ten title for the third time in four years.
Another conference championship would be Izzo's seventh, making him the fifth with that many in Big Ten history. Bob Knight won 11 at Indiana to match the conference record set by Purdue's Ward "Piggy" Lambert. Fred Taylor led Ohio State to nine Big Ten titles and Wisconsin's Walter Meanwell had eight.
"It would probably be the most-earned (Big Ten title) of all of them other than maybe the first one," Izzo said. "Not that we came out of nowhere, but we weren't a ranked team and deservedly so.
"It would mean a lot to me and I think it would mean a lot to them. Our schedule has been tough. We're embarking on the fifth game in 13 days and it's going to be hard for us to play down there. If we can survive, we will have earned it. The problem is we have two of the tougher games that we've had all year left."
The Spartans, who led by eight at halftime, turned the game into a rout early in the second half with a 13-0 run that put them ahead 38-17.
"When they decided in the second half to really clamp down on us defensively, that's when the game got out of hand," Sadler said.
Green was the only player to score in double figures for Michigan State, but several players contributed offensively and the Spartans shot 59 percent overall.
"Other than Draymond, nobody had a big game," Izzo said. "But we shot awfully well."
Michigan State picked up its intensity on defense in the second half and was effective on offense, outscoring the Cornhuskers 39-19 after halftime and holding them to 29-percent shooting overall.
The Spartans held a Big Ten opponent to its lowest score since the 2000 national championship season when Northwestern scored just 29 points in a 30-point loss to them.
"The biggest thing is, we can't score the basketball," Sadler said. "You have to give their defense credit for that."