FINAL: Spartans drop second straight, fall to Nebraska 68-64

Nia+Clouden+whips+a+pass+in+the+Spartans%27+93-87+loss+to+No.+14+Maryland%2F+Photo+Credit%3A+MSU+Athletic+Communications

Nia Clouden whips a pass in the Spartans’ 93-87 loss to No. 14 Maryland/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Michael Markoch, Women's Basketball Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING — A third quarter surge was not enough for the Michigan State Spartans to take down the Nebraska Cornhuskers as the Spartans fell to 8-2 (3-2 Big Ten) on the season with a 68-64 loss on Sunday.

Nebraska got off to a scorching hot start, shooting an incredible 83% during the first five minutes, led by redshirt sophomore guard Ashley Scoggin, who started off the game 3-of-3 from the floor including an early 3-pointer, giving her seven early points. By the end of the first quarter, the Cornhuskers shot a very respectable 53% from the floor and carried a slight 20-16 advantage into the second frame.

Michigan State, on the other hand, got off to more of a slow start, especially in the turnover category, giving up the ball five times in the first quarter alone. MSU coach Suzy Merchant felt it was the effect of the team trying to do too much.

“We’ve got to get back to being us,” Merchant said. “That’s not how we practice, it’s certainly not how we have been playing. We share the ball and move the ball, and we did not do that well.”

An and-1 basket by junior guard Janai Crooms in the closing seconds of the first quarter seemed to give the Spartans some momentum to build off of, cutting into the Nebraska lead, but that momentum was short-lived.

It was more of the same in the second quarter, with MSU turnovers leading to quick Nebraska baskets on the other end. MSU ended the half with 11 turnovers, which Nebraska turned into 10 first-half points, accounting for more than the point difference between the two teams at the break.

The Cornhuskers also got off to a 5-of-7 start from 3-point range, which really set the tone throughout the first half. Whenever it seemed like the Spartans were clawing back into the game, Nebraska would always answer with a huge 3-pointer. With 3:50 to go in the half, Nebraska led 32-25 and the Spartans were struggling to find a rhythm heading into the locker room. At the half, Nebraska held a 39-30 lead.  

Sophomore guards Alyza Winston and Julia Ayrault paced the Spartans in the first half, with eight and seven points, respectively. However, the Spartans seemed to have no answer in the first half for Nebraska sophomore forward Isabelle Bourne, who finished the half with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, leading the team at the half.

Then, at the start of the second half, it seemed as if everything had changed. The Spartans were the team shooting well and forcing turnovers. MSU got off to an 8-0 run right out of the gate, trimming the Nebraska lead to just one point with 6:53 to play in the third quarter. 

The key to Michigan State’s second-half surge was an influx of energy led by junior guard Tory Ozment, who had a great third quarter to help the Spartans back into the game with her scoring, defense and passing. Ozment scored six of her 11 points in the third quarter, most coming from fast breaks, and also hit two huge free throws at the five-minute mark of the third quarter to give MSU its first lead since early in the first half, 44-43.

Tory Ozment attempts a 3-pointer agains Northern Illinois G Janae Poisson/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Merchant thought Ozment played a key role in creating momentum, calling her a “bright spot” for the Spartans in the game. 

“(Ozment) really brought it,” Merchant said. “I thought in the second half, she competed. She plays hard and she plays within the flow of the game.”

“We still have to come out every game with energy from the tip,” Ozment said. “I think that is really important for us to learn as we move forward.”

The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth affair through most of the quarter. At the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the game was tied 58-58. MSU’s leading scorer, Nia Clouden, began to get hot after shooting a poor 1-for-6 in the first half. She scored 11 points in the second half to lead the Spartans in scoring with 14 points for the game, but unfortunately for the Spartans, it was not enough as Clouden fouled out late.

“Everyone has to have that next man up mentality,” Ozment said about losing Clouden late. “We have to use that and have somebody step up and fill their shoes a little bit… we just kind of have to change our mentality when those things happen.”

MSU ended the game shooting only 5-of-25 from 3-point range and Nebraska shot 6-of-14. Some more late turnovers along with the poor shooting by MSU allowed Nebraska to shut the door with clutch free throws to collect a tight victory in the Breslin Center.

“It’s great to clean things up in the second half, but you’ve already spotted somebody nine,” Merchant said about her team’s second half fight. “Our urgency had to change a little bit… offensively we kind of got away from what has helped us, passing the ball, sharing the ball and moving it.”

The Spartans will look to rebound Thursday night as they hit the road to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini.

Michael Markoch is a women’s basketball beat reporter for WDBM Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @mcmarkoch20.