EAST LANSING (DETROIT FREE PRESS) – Sole possession of first place in the Big Ten was right there for Michigan State to take.
The Spartans' response? A collective: "Eh, that's OK."
Right after Wisconsin went to Ann Arbor and upset co-leader Michigan today, the Nebraska Cornhuskers took care of the No. 9 Spartans in the teams' only meeting this season.
Terran Petteway scored 23 points – including some highly difficult threes with the game on the line -- and Walter Pitchford had 18 in Nebraska's 60-51 stunner at Breslin Center. MSU (21-5, 10-3) stays in a first-place tie with U-M, a week before their showdown in Ann Arbor.
Keith Appling made his return for MSU after missing the previous three games with a sprained right wrist. He didn't play much late, though, because the wrist still won't allow him to shoot.
MSU got 18 points from Gary Harris, who continues to struggle with his shot, and just 11 from Adreian Payne. The Spartans couldn't get stops when needed on defense and were disjointed for much of the day on offense.
Nebraska built a first-half lead behind the shooting of Pitchford, who had 12 at the break. Appling's presence seemed to aid MSU's defense in an 11-0 run that turned a 13-4 deficit into a 15-13 lead, but Nebraska gradually regained control.
It was 32-25 at halftime and it got to 38-27 before the Spartans started to creep back into it with 15 minutes left.
MSU cut the lead to four, Nebraska got it back to eight. It was six when Petteway nailed a long three-pointer over Payne and flexed as he went the other way – his team up 48-39 with 8:22 left.
Then Payne hit a short jumper in the post. Denzel Valentine drove and scored. Petteway hit an incredible fadeaway triple to put his team up seven, but Harris was fouled on a three the next time down and hit all three foul shots.
Payne got inside for a basket to make it 51-49 with 4:01 left. The Breslin crowd was alive now, setting up a wild finish.
MSU trailed by three when Petteway missed a three and Payne found himself with a fast-break chance. He missed, though – Tom Izzo screamed for a foul a few feet away -- and Petteway converted his own breakaway at the other end to make it 56-51 with 1:09 left.
Contact Joe Rexrode: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @joerexrode. Check out his MSU blog at freep.com/heyjoe.