Now that Tom Izzo has seen the true potential of his Michigan State squad, he’s hoping it can maintain that level of play.
A repeat of last month’s performance versus Nebraska certainly won’t suffice.
The eighth-ranked Spartans look to keep pace atop the rugged Big Ten by earning a second straight season sweep of the host Cornhuskers on Saturday night.
Izzo repeatedly stated he wanted to see better play from his squad, and he got his wish in a 75-52 blowout of No. 4 Michigan on Tuesday. It was a rout from start to finish, as Michigan State (21-4, 10-2) forced the Wolverines into 16 turnovers despite them coming in averaging a nation-low 9.3 per game.
“Keep it in perspective that we probably played our best game in three years,” Izzo said. “We played about as well as we can play.
“I’m not sure we’re as good as we played, but I’ll take it.”
Freshman Gary Harris had 18 points and made 5 of his 9 3-point attempts – he’s hitting 54.3 percent from long range over his last five games – while Derrick Nix added 14.
The Spartans are tied for the Big Ten lead with No. 1 Indiana, which hosts Purdue earlier Saturday.
“We can be as great as we want to be,” Nix told the team’s official website. “Our success is upon ourselves.”
Reserve guard Travis Trice is expected to miss a fourth straight game with a head injury, but Michigan State is getting a balanced effort from all over the floor. Nix and Adreian Payne are playing well inside, Branden Dawson and reserve freshman Denzel Valentine are excelling as slashers while Harris and point guard Keith Appling are keeping teams on their heels on the perimeter.
“The thing I said why this team could be good a couple weeks ago is that we’ve got an inside and we’ve got an outside,” Izzo said. “If we can get (Trice) back, we’ll have another shooter and that would really help this team.”
Valentine knows the Spartans can’t suffer a letdown Saturday after throttling Michigan – particularly with the Hoosiers visiting East Lansing on Tuesday.
“The expectations just got higher, so we have to bring more and more every game,” Valentine said. “We can’t take any team lightly.”
Whether or not Michigan State did that against Nebraska in the first meeting, the Cornhuskers came ready to play. The score was tied with less than seven minutes remaining before the Spartans closed on a 16-6 run for a 66-56 victory Jan. 13.
“They played harder than us, they coached better than us,” Izzo said after that contest, in which Appling and Harris shot a combined 2 for 17. “They probably deserved to win the game in every way.”
Nebraska (12-13, 3-9), which has dropped three of four, played competitively for the first 15 minutes Wednesday at Indiana before falling 76-47. Dylan Talley scored 16 points, but the Huskers shot only 36.2 percent and were held under 50 points for the sixth time.
Forward Brandon Ubel, who sat out the first meeting with Michigan State while recovering from a fractured elbow, missed both of his field-goal attempts and finished with a season-low four points.
“We were in foul trouble most of the night. You get to a certain point and it feels like you’re on the Titanic – it’s just one guy after another,” coach Tim Miles said. “When Brandon Ubel was in the game, I thought we were at our best, we just couldn’t get him on the floor enough.”
Nebraska is shooting 35.5 percent over its last three and shot 39.7 percent in the first meeting with Michigan State, which has won its last three games by an average of 15.7 points.
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