Colley’s return not enough, Spartans lose 79-69 to Cornhuskers

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan State women’s basketball team (15-12 overall, 5-9 B1G) took on Nebraska (19-7 overall, 9-3 B1G) Wednesday night at the Breslin Center. After upsetting No. 21 Michigan on Sunday, the Spartans were hoping to extend their upset streak to two. The Spartans fell to Nebraska 79-69.

“They didn’t have the same sense of urgency and focus that we had in the last couple games,” MSU coach Suzy Merchant said. “I don’t really understand why it’s there one day and gone the next.”

The first quarter began with a fire from both teams. The Cornhuskers came out with two 3-pointers. Spartans tightened up their defense. Despite being tied 7-7 in the middle of the first quarter, the Spartans couldn’t keep up with the Husker’s scoring. The quarter ended 19-15, with the Spartans only down four.

Michigan State came out with more aggression and energy in the second quarter. The Spartan defense was everywhere, managing to collect seven steals by the end of the first half. After a jumper from Lexi Gussert and Taya Reimer, MSU tied the game at 19-19. The Nebraska shooters continued, including Hannah Whitish, who led all scorers with 12 points, all of which were 3-point shots.

The Spartans were ready for a fight, and that’s exactly what it was. The lead changed back-and-forth throughout the quarter, but after a long-range shot from sophomore guard Taryn McCutcheon, MSU held the lead at 32-30.

McCutcheon made another 3-pointer to extend the Spartan lead to 35-33. Then, Shay Colley — in her first game in a month after returning from a knee injury — drew a foul driving to the basket, causing a burst of momentum and three points for the Spartans.

“You’ve got to trust in your knee, that’s the first step,” Colley said, explaining what her doctor told her. “When you believe that your knees are okay, you can go out and play.”

After Colley’s made foul shot, MSU was up 38-33 with two minutes left to go.

“I wasn’t really sure what was gonna happen there,” Merchant said. “I mean she [Colley] was really tentative about wanting to play. When she was out there she looked pretty strong and she seemed like she was doing okay.”

The Spartan defense was very active in the paint. Forward Jenna Allen  dove after a loose ball, resulting in two bloody knees. Allen’s teammates joined her and played scrappy ball, hustling after dead balls.

The first half ended with two made foul shots from Allen, giving the Spartans a halftime lead of 40-38.

Allen lead the Spartans in scoring with 12 points, while McCutcheon had seven assists and three steals. Nebraska only had three steals total at the end of the half.

The second half heated up quickly. The pump-fake was working for the Spartans, giving them just enough room for a clean and set shot. McCutcheon showed the ball, then with a strong step managed to get around her defender for a shot.

The Cornhuskers did not back down; their offense was too quick for the Spartans. Nebraska hooked the lead after MSU coach Suzy Merchant drew a technical based on her reaction to the lack of a foul call. Whitish sunk the two technical foul shots, putting Nebraska up 46-44.

Colley managed to draw a foul driving to the basket. Hustle like this kept the Spartans in the game, but it wasn’t enough against the Nebraska offense. The third quarter ended with a Husker basket, leaving the Spartans behind 62-50.

“We didn’t play defense,” Allen said. “Our focus wasn’t there tonight. We need to come out with that fire every night.”

MSU shot 23.5-percent in the third quarter, which made it hard for them to gain control of the game before it was too late.

The last quarter of the game was a challenge for Michigan State. The Spartans failed to take the lead, while Nebraska kept shooting well, 51.8-percent overall. Although Colley fought through Husker defense drawing fouls and making shots, her aggression was not enough to change the momentum of the game.

Nebraska broke away when Whitish got off another made shot behind the arc, increasing the Husker lead to 70-57. The Spartans knew they had to put up points quickly with only three minutes left in the game, but they were unsuccessful in getting back into it.

Allen ended the game lead scorer with 19 points, while 6th-year senior Branndais Agee haad two points. With 11 steals, and only one block, the Spartan defense failed to stop Nebraska.

The Spartans will host Wisconsin next Wednesday Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. This will be the last home game for them, and their second-to-last game before B1G Tournament play starts up.

“I asked Lexi that in the locker room, like, ‘where was the same enthusiasm and will and fight that you had against Michigan for tonight?’” Merchant said. “It’s just lack of focus and concentration. The ‘February Fight’ comes from one group of people on your team usually. If you really want to be a successful team… it comes from your seniors.”

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