Photo by Pat Radigan
Story by Pat Radigan
Second-half surge allows Nebraska to pull away in 79-69 win
For the first time in awhile, the Nebraska women’s basketball team found itself in a shootout heading into halftime against Michigan State.
As the third quarter wore on, the Huskers kept hitting shots. The Spartans ran dry.
A 7-0 run to end the third put Nebraska up by 12, and gave the Huskers enough of an edge to keep Michigan State from getting back in the game. Hannah Whitish and Nicea Eliely went for 17 points each, including a combined eight 3-pointers, and led NU to 12 makes from downtown to sprint past the Spartans, and back into a tie with Ohio State for second in the Big Ten standings.
With the two teams tied at 44, Nebraska got 7 points from Taylor Kissinger, a steal and layup from Janay Morton, plus a 3-pointer from Eliely, over the final 5:35 of the third quarter. Two free throws by Hannah Whitish and baskets by Bria Stallworth and Janay Morton made it six different players to score during the stretch, and allowed NU to outscore the Spartans 18-6.
That balance allowed Nebraska to wear down the Spartans and keep Michigan State from gaining any momentum from the home crowd. Michigan State would get no closer than nine the rest of the way.
Kate Cain, who was held scoreless in the first half, started the second half with a basket, then added a pair of baskets and a free throw in the fourth as the game slowed down. Darrien Washington also got a basket in the fourth quarter, which stayed with the theme of inside-out for the Huskers.
It started in the first half with Rachel Blackburn, who came into the game with 28 points in 23 appearances this year. Blackburn hit all three shots she attempted in the first half. The five first-half minutes was all the time Blackburn saw on the court, but her example set the tone for NU to outscore Michigan State 20-12 in the paint after halftime to help pull away.
Kissinger finished with 11 points off the bench, while also dishing out 3 assists and grabbing 3 rebounds. Cain also found other ways to contribute, and also went 3-and-3, but with assists and blocks.
Michigan State was sparked by the return of Shay Colley to the lineup. Colley missed the last seven games, and came off the bench to add 15 points, on 5 of 8 shooting, in 24 minutes. The Spartans just could not come up with enough depth to keep up with Nebraska’s 11-player rotation.
Nebraska was able to shoot almost identical numbers in both halves (51.9/51.7 percent); Michigan State started the game with the same numbers as NU’s second-half surge (15-for-29 from the floor), but dropped down to 33 percent shooting after the break.
The Husker win kept NU a game ahead of Minnesota in the conference standings, and in a tie with an Ohio State team that beat Nebraska earlier this year. Nebraska owns the tiebreaker against Minnesota, and gained a game on a Michigan team that beat NU thanks to a 93-87 win by the Gophers as the Wolverines continue to slide down the standings.
Should the Huskers beat Indiana on Saturday, a loss by Minnesota against No. 10 Maryland on Saturday can wrap up a double-bye for Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament. Tip-off against the Hoosiers is set for 11 a.m. on Saturday.