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Nebraska 79, Michigan State 77: Free Throw Follies

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Atrocious shooting from the charity stripe comes back to haunt the Spartans, despite an outrageous advantage on the glass.

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

The Cornhuskers were already short-handed with David Rivers sitting out due to injury, and when Walter Pitchford picked up a flagrant foul and ejection four minutes in, both of their starting bigs were done for the day. With seven minutes left in the first half, though, Nebraska still led 20-18, and from there went on a 15-2 run, fueled in part by MSU going 2 for 7 from the free throw line in the last seven minutes of the half. The Spartans gradually chipped away at the lead and got it down to 8 with 9 minutes to play. A few steals in the full-court press late got MSU relatively close, but it wasn't enough.

Four factors:

eFG: Nebraska 55.6%, MSU 47.0%
Turnovers: Nebraska 14.6%, MSU 23.3%
OR: MSU 53.3%, Nebraska 17.2%
FT rate: Nebraska 82.2 (78.4% made), MSU 37.9 (60% made)

MSU made free throws late, but the terrible start from the line and poor shooting from the floor early dug too deep a hole. Only offensive rebounding, an incredible 24 of them (8 by Branden Dawson, who also had 10 defensive rebounds), kept MSU in the game at all. The Spartans' usual scoring balance was gone; Travis Trice had 27 and Denzel Valentine added 21, but no one else reached double digits.

With one starter out and another ejected so early for Nebraska, this feels like a major missed opportunity. At Nebraska isn't a disastrous loss - Kenpom had it listed as the fourth most difficult remaining game for us - but it was there for the taking and it didn't happen. Full credit to the team for clawing their way back from such a big deficit, but digging the hole that deep shouldn't have happened in the first place. With even mediocre free throw shooting, MSU would be a tournament lock at this point and probably tied for the conference lead; as it is, MSU is still in good position for the tournament, but the margin for error is decreasing rather quickly. The next four - at Rutgers, Michigan, Illinois, at Northwestern - are all games MSU should win; going into the last stretch at 7-4 would be a little too close for comfort.