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Huskers Head to No. 9 Michigan State

Huskers Head to No. 9 Michigan State
Freshman Amir Harris has set career highs in the last two games. Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

The Husker men’s basketball team returns to action after its weekend bye on Tuesday night, as the Huskers travel to East Lansing to face the No. 9/11 (AP/Coaches) Michigan State Spartans. Tipoff at the Breslin Center is set for 6 p.m. (central).

The matchup of the Huskers and Spartans will be televised nationally on ESPN2 with Dave Flemming, Dan Dakich and Molly McGrath on the call. The matchup will also be available on the ESPN app and WatchESPN app with cable authentication.

Fans can follow all of the action across the state of Nebraska on the IMG Husker Sports Network with Kent Pavelka and Jake Muhleisen on the call. The game will also be available on Huskers.com, on the Huskers app, on TuneIn Radio and the TuneIn Radio app and on both Sirius and XM Radio. The pregame show begins one hour prior to tipoff on many of the Husker Sports Network affiliates (affiliate list on page 7 of the game notes).

The Huskers (15-14, 5-13 Big Ten) look to regroup after its most disappointing performance of the season, an 82-53 loss at No. 9 Michigan on Thursday. Michigan shot 56 percent from the floor, including 65 percent in the first half, to build a 22-point halftime lead. John Teske led Michigan with 22 points and 10 rebounds to pace four players in double figures. For the Huskers, Nana Akenten came off the bench to score 11 points in 10 minutes before leaving the game with an injury, while Glynn Watson Jr. added 10 markers. NU shot just 34 percent, and the Wolverines held James Palmer Jr. to a season-low seven points.

If Nebraska has hopes of not playing on the first day of the Big Ten Tournament next week in Chicago, the Huskers will need a two wins and some help during the last week of regular-season play.

Michigan State (23-6, 14-4 Big Ten) looks to rebound after a 63-62 loss at Indiana that knocked the Spartans out of first place in the Big Ten race.  Against the Hoosiers, Indiana rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit and took the lead on Juwan Morgan’s 3-point play with 30 seconds remaining. MSU had two opportunities to regain the lead in the final 30 seconds, but the Hoosiers held on to complete the season sweep. Cassius Winston led Michigan State with 20 points and 11 rebounds to pace three MSU players in double figures. Kenny Goines added 14 points, including four 3-pointers, while Xavier Tillman chipped in 11 points, 10 boards and four blocks.

OPENING NUMBER

11 – Nana Akenten’s 11-point effort at No. 9 Michigan led the Huskers on Thursday. It was the first time in his career he led the Huskers in scoring, and he is the sixth different player to top NU in scoring for a game this season.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

221 – Number of free throws James Palmer Jr. has shot this year, a total which is 10th nationally as of March 3. Palmer ranks second on NU’s single-season list in both free throws made (175) and attempted (221).

.921 – Nebraska is 35-3 under Tim Miles when shooting over 50 percent, including 13 straight wins dating back to the 2016-17 season.

1.33 – Nebraska’s assist-to-turnover ratio, which is on pace to be one of the best marks in school history and ranks 36th nationally.

No. Year Asst.-to-TO ratio
1. 1984-85 1.81
2. 1985-86 1.64
3. 1983-84 1.34
2018-19 1.33
5. 1981-82 1.29

4 – Number of opponents who have shot over 50 percent against NU in the last 54 games dating back to last season.

+3.4 – Nebraska leads in the Big Ten in turnover margin, as the Huskers are third in fewest turnovers per game and fourth in forcing turnovers.

SCOUTING MICHIGAN STATE
Under Hall of Fame Coach Tom Izzo, the Spartans have been one of the flagship programs in the Big Ten. The Spartans have made seven Final Fours in the last 20 seasons and made 21 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Izzo, who is in his 24th year at MSU, lost a pair of NBA Lottery selections, but returned three starters and 11 letterwinners from a team that went 30-5, including 16-2 to win the Big Ten regular-season crown.

The Spartans head into the final week of the regular season in a tie for second place with Michigan following a 63-62 loss at Indiana on Saturday. With the loss, the Spartans trail Purdue by one game, as the Boilermakers can clinch a share of the Big Ten title on Wednesday at Minnesota. MSU is down a pair of starters, as Joshua Langford (15.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and Nick Ward (15.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg) are both out with injuries.

Michigan State averages 79.5 points per game to rank second in the Big Ten. The Spartans lead the conference in field goal percentage offense (.488), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5-to-1), and is second in 3-point percentage .381). Defensively, MSU tops the conference in field goal percentage defense (.373) as well as blocked shots (5.6) while ranking second in rebounding margin (+8.4).

Junior point guard Cassius Winston is the front runner for Big Ten Player of the Year, as he averages 19.2 points and a conference-best 7.6 assists per game. Xavier Tillman had emerged in Ward’s absence, and is averaging 9.0 points per game on 62 percent shooting along with 7.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.

SERIES HISTORY
Michigan State leads the all-time series, 16-9, in a rivalry that dates back to February of 1920. The Huskers are 3-8 against Michigan State since joining the Big Ten, but two of the three wins have come against top-15 Spartan squads in East Lansing.

  • Tuesday’s meeting is the 13th time in the last 16 meetings dating back to 1990 where Nebraska has faced a ranked MSU team. NU is 5-7 in the previous 12 matchups. Of the 13 meetings since Nebraska has joined the Big Ten, six have been against Spartan squads in the top-10.
  • Nebraska won the first two meetings on consecutive days, posting a 43-26 win on Feb. 13, 1920, and a 39-20 win the following day.
  • The teams played six times between 1988 and 1994, splitting the six contests. Nebraska’s three wins in the span came by a total of 11 points.
  • Nebraska’s 2014 win in East Lansing was its first top-10 road win since the 1997 season, and the Huskers have won two of the last three meetings in East Lansing.

LAST MEETING VS. MICHIGAN STATE
The Nebraska men’s basketball team turned in a solid defensive effort, but the Huskers could not overcome a poor shooting night in a 70-64 loss to No. 6 Michigan State at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Jan. 18.

Despite shooting just 32.8 percent from the field and hitting only 5-of-26 from the 3-point line, Nebraska was within striking distance in a game that featured 11 lead changes and six ties. The game was tied at 44 with 9:43 remaining, but Michigan State responded with a 7-0 run and never relinquished the lead.

The loss snapped Nebraska’s school-record-tying 20-game home winning streak, as the Huskers dropped to 13-5 on the season and 3-4 in Big Ten Conference play. James Palmer Jr. led the Huskers with 24 points and eight rebounds, and the senior went 11-of-11 from the free-throw line. Isaac Copeland Jr. added 13 points in his 100th career start, while Thomas Allen chipped in nine points and Glynn Watson Jr. had eight.

Cassius Winston led Michigan State with a career-high 29 points on 9-of-15 shooting. Behind Winston, the Spartans won their 11th straight game, set a school record with their 19th consecutive regular-season Big Ten Conference win and extended their school record with their 11th consecutive Big Ten road win.

LAST TIME OUT
Ninth-ranked Michigan hit 12 3-pointers and shot better than 55 percent Thursday night to hand the Husker men’s basketball team its worst loss of the season, 82-53, at the Crisler Center.

The Wolverines made 55.6 percent of their shots and were 12-of-22 from beyond the arc to improve to 25-5 and move to one-half game out of first place in the Big Ten standings with a 14-4 record in conference play. Jon Teske led a quartet of Wolverines in double figures with a game-high 22 points while collecting 10 rebounds to post a double-double. Isaiah Livers also produced a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Ignas Brazdeikis added 22 points, Colin Castleton scored 11 points and Zavier Simpson dished out 10 assists.

Nebraska shot just 34.3 percent, was 2-of-12 from the 3-point line and just 5-of-9 from the free-throw line. The bright spot was the play of the Husker bench, which produced 21 points, two shy of matching Nebraska’s largest bench production in Big Ten play.

Nana Akenten led Nebraska with 11 points, his first game in double figures since Nov. 19 and his career high for a Big Ten game. Amir Harris added eight points, with the freshman setting his career high in points for the second straight game. Glynn Watson Jr. paced the Husker starters with 10 points.

WORTH NOTING

  • Michigan State is the ninth ranked team the Huskers will face this season and second straight top-10 team. NU is 1-7 against ranked teams this season, while the nine ranked opponents in a season is fifth on NU’s single-season list.
  • Nebraska is 51st in the NET rankings released on March 3. NU has played 21 of its 28 Division I games against teams in Quadrants 1-2.
  • According to Kenpom, Nebraska’s strength of schedule is 11th nationally as of March 3, as 10 of the 20 toughest schedules are by Big Ten teams. Since joining the Big Ten in 2010-11, this year could mark the fifth time in eight years that Nebraska has had a top-20 schedule according to the KenPom rankings (2011-12; 2012-13; 2013-14; 2016-17; 2018-19).
  • 10 of Nebraska’s 14 losses have been to teams who have been ranked in the top-15 at some point in the season (Texas Tech, Maryland-2x, Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue-2x and Michigan).
  • Balance has been key for the Husker attack this season. When NU has at least three double-figure scorers, the Huskers are 13-8, but just 2-6 when less than three NU players are in double figures.
  • James Palmer Jr. has posted 13 20-point games this season, a total that ties Terran Petteway for the most 20-point games in Tim Miles’ seven seasons and is the most by any Husker since Tyronn Lue had 16 20-point games in 1997-98.  The school record for 20-point games in a season is 21 by Dave Hoppen in 1984-85.
  • Palmer saw his streak of 24 straight games end with a seven-point performance against Michigan. It marked the third time in five years that a Husker double-figure streak of at least 20 games was snapped against Michigan, as the same fate fell to Terran Petteway (2015) and Tai Webster (2017).
  • Palmer could also break a pair of single-season school records on Tuesday, as he is currently second on Nebraska’s single-season charts in both free throws made (175) and attempted (221).  He is nine shy of the school record for most free throws (184, Jack Moore, 1979-80) and six away from attempts (227, Kimani Ffriend, 1999-2000).
  • Isaiah Roby is currently the only Big Ten player who ranks in the top 10 in both steals (1.4, fourth) and blocked shots (1.8, fifth). If he continues at that pace, he will be just the fifth Big Ten player in the last 25 years to average at least 1.3 steals and blocks per game. Roby is also two blocked shots away from becoming just the second player in school history (Venson Hamilton, 1998-99) to record consecutive seasons with both 50 blocked shots and 50 assists.
  • Glynn Watson Jr. is one of six players currently on NU’s top-10 list in both assists and steals, joining Brian Carr (1984-87), Cookie Belcher (1997-2001), Tyronn Lue (1996-98), Erick Strickland (1993-96) and Clifford Scales (1998-91). Watson is currently in ninth place on NU’s assist list (354) and fifth on NU’s steals list (171).
  • Former walk-on Tanner Borchardt has stepped into a crucial role for the Huskers following Isaac Copeland’s injury. Borchardt is averaging 6.4 rebounds per game over the Huskers’ last 10 contests and is averaging 27.3 minutes per game. Prior to Copeland’s injury, Borchardt averaged just 2.9 rebounds per game in 12.3 minutes per contest and had never played more than 20 minutes in a game in his college career.
  • Nebraska ranks 10th nationally in average attendance at 15,639 per game as of March 3. Of the eight schools ahead of the Huskers, all eight play in facilities of at least 16,300 seats. NU’s attendance is 104 percent of PBA’s 15,000-seat capacity.

HUSKERS LIMIT TURNOVERS
Nebraska has done an exceptional job of limiting turnovers this season. The Huskers are on pace to shatter the school record for fewest turnovers per game.  Nebraska is currently seventh nationally in that category with an average of 9.7 per game.

  • Nebraska has committed 10 or fewer turnovers in seven of the last nine games, including a season low of five against No. 24 Maryland on Feb. 6 and against No. 15 Purdue on Feb. 23.
  • Four of the five lowest turnover per game totals have come in Tim Miles’ seven seasons at Nebraska.
  • Three of the top seven teams in terms of turnovers per game are in the Big Ten, as NU is joined by Wisconsin (second) and Michigan (third).

HUSKER OFFENSIVE NOTES
Despite the offensive struggles since Isaac Copeland’s season-ending injury, NU comes into the Michigan State game averaging 71.2 points per game. The Huskers have scored at least 70 points 16 times, including seven games of at least 80 points.

  • Nebraska is 43rd nationally in offensive efficiency according to Kenpom through March 3. Only the 2003-04 team (25th) has had a more efficient offense in the KemPom’s rankings since the site began tracking data in 2000-01.
  • Over the last four years (2015-16 to present), Nebraska has averaged around 90th nationally in the Kenpom offensive efficiency after being 185th during Tim Miles’ first three seasons (2012-13 to 2014-15).
  • Nebraska is 14-6 when averaging at least one point per possession this season, but 1-8 when held under one point per possession.
  • The Huskers have started to break out of an offensive slump. In a six-game stretch from Jan. 17-Feb. 6, NU shot just 33 percent and averaged 58.8 points per game. Over the last six games, NU is shooting 40 percent from the field, including 33 percent from 3-point range and averaging 63.2 ppg. The Huskers’ 72 points against Purdue on Feb. 23 was its highest total since Jan. 6.
  • The Huskers scored 106 points against Mississippi Valley State, the Huskers’ highest total since the 2005-06 campaign.
  • Nebraska opened the season with four straight games scoring at least 80 points, marking the first time NU has accomplished that since the 1996 NIT.
  • Nebraska scored 94 points in the win over Creighton, its third-highest total in 52 meetings in the series.

DOING IT WITH DEFENSE
For Nebraska, the biggest thing over the last two seasons has been improvements on the defensive end.

Last season, NU went from 13th to sixth in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense and from 14th to second in 3-point percentage defense.  That has continued during the 2018-19 season entering the final week of the regular season.

  • NU ranks in the top-45 nationally in scoring defense (65.1, 36th) and field goal percentage defense (.410, 45th) as of March 3. The Huskers are also third in the Big Ten in steals (7.1 spg) and fifth in blocked shots (4.2 bpg).
  • Nebraska’s opponents are shooting .410 from the field, which ranks among the best numbers since the 3-point line was established in 1987-88.
  • Only four opponents have shot over 50 percent against Nebraska in the last 54 games dating back to last season. In 2018-19, NU has held 25 of its 29 opponents under 50 percent shooting.
  • NU has held its last 33 opponents at home to under 50 percent dating back to the start of the 2017-18 season.
  • NU has limited 11 opponents to under 0.85 points per possession. Mississippi Valley State and Southeastern Louisiana were held to 0.47 points per possession, the lowest number in Tim Miles’ seven years at NU. On the season, the Huskers are 55th in Kenpom’s adjusted defense through March 4.
  • The Huskers have held six opponents to their lowest offensive total of the season.
  • Under Miles, the Huskers are 51-5 (.911) when holding foes under 60 points, including 17-0 the past three years.
  • Under Miles, the Huskers are 59-19 (.756) when holding opponents under 40 percent shooting, including 22-5 (.815) over the past three seasons.

 Charting Defensive Improvement

2016-17 Season 2017-18 Season 2018-19 Season
Category Overall (Conf. Rk.) Overall (Conf. Rk.) Overall (Conf. Rk.)
PPG Allowed 73.0 (12) 68.6 (10) 65.1 (3rd)
FG Pct. Def. .447 (13) .423 (6) .410 (5th)
3-Pt. Pct. Def. .399 (14) .322 (2) .318 (6th)

 

PALMER POSTS CONSECUTIVE 500-POINT SEASONS
Nebraska senior guard James Palmer Jr. became the eighth Husker player to record consecutive 500-point seasons at Nebraska following his 24-point effort at Penn State on Feb. 19. He is the first Husker to accomplish the feat since Terran Petteway in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

  • The others on the list include Jerry Fort (1974-75 & 1975-76), Dave Hoppen (1983-84 & 1984-85), Eric Piatkowski (1992-93 & 1993-94), Erick Strickland (1994-95 & 1995-96), Tyronn Lue (1996-97 & 1997-98) and Aleks Maric (2006-07 & 2007-08).
  • Palmer is now 27 points away from 10th place on NU’s single-season scoring list with 536 points. His point total is already the most by a Husker senior since Eric Piatkowski, who holds the school mark with 646 points in 1993-94.

PALMER LOOKS TO JOIN HUSKERS’ 500/100 CLUB
Senior guard James Palmer Jr. could become only the fifth player in school history to have 500 points and 100 assists in the same season.  Palmer, who already has 536 points, needs just nine assists to join Erick Strickland, Jaron Boone, Tyronn Lue and Tai Webster as the only Huskers to score 500 points and dish out 100 assists in a season.

NEW GAME, SAME NUMBER FOR PALMER
While senior guard James Palmer Jr. switched from No. 24 to No. 0 in the offseason, the All-American candidate continues to produce at a high level. Earlier this season, he was named to the midseason watch list for both the Wooden and Lute Olson awards, and is currently averaging 18.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game.

  • He is among the Big Ten leaders in scoring (fourth), assists (10th), steals (eighth) and free throw percentage (.792, eighth).
  • Palmer’s scoring average is the highest by a Husker since Tyronn Lue averaged 21.2 ppg in 1997-98.
  • He is on pace to post one of the highest scoring averages in Nebraska history. Only two players – Terran Petteway and Dave Hoppen – have averaged 18.0 ppg as a Husker during their career.
  • Palmer has reached double figures in 58 of 62 career games at Nebraska, including 21 20-point efforts and a pair of 30-point performances.
  • Palmer has shown the ability to get to the free throw line, as he ranks in the top-10 nationally in both free throws (175, 11th) and attempts (221, 10th), while shooting a career best 79.2 percent from the foul line. Entering this year, Palmer was a career 72 percent shooter.  As of March 3, Palmer leads all power conference players in free throw attempts.
  • He joined an exclusive club at Nebraska on Feb. 6, as he became the Huskers’ 30th 1,000-point scorer. He reached the 1,000-point mark in 56 career games, the second-fastest player to reach that milestone. He is also just the third player to reach 1,000 points in his first two seasons at NU, joining Terran Petteway and Dave Hoppen.
  • He had his most recent 20-point effort at Penn State with a team-high 24 points, including 9-of-13 from the line.
  • He enjoyed a 24-point effort against Minnesota when he had a game-high 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting and went 8-of-10 from the line, including a pair of free throws with 1.1 seconds left to give Nebraska a 62-61 win.
  • Palmer had 24 points, including 11-of-11 from the foul line, and a team-high eight caroms against No. 6 Michigan State.
  • He put together one of his best all-around games at No. 25 Indiana with 11 points along with a career-high nine rebounds and seven assists.
  • Palmer led NU with 26 points at Maryland while adding seven rebounds, four assists and a career-high five steals.
  • Palmer enjoyed one of the best performances of his career with a 30-point game against Creighton. The effort included a career-high six 3-pointers.

Last season, Palmer averaged 17.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in leading the Huskers to a 22-11 record and an NIT berth.  Palmer reached double figures in 31 of 33 games in his first season at Nebraska, including eight 20-point efforts. Palmer’s junior year was highlighted by a career-high 34-point effort at Ohio State. Palmer joins Purdue’s Carsen Edwards as returning first-team All-Big Ten selections by the conference coaches.

WATSON KEYS HUSKER ATTACK
Glynn Watson Jr. is in his fourth year as Nebraska’s starting point guard and is currently averaging 12.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.

  • Watson will make his 107th career start on Tuesday which ranks fourth in school history. He will also move into fourth place on NU’s games played list with his 128th appearance on Tuesday.
  • His on-ball defense has been instrumental in Nebraska ranking among the national leaders in field goal and scoring defense, as he can switch on bigger guards and some forwards.
  • Watson has been in double figures 20 times this season, including his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 assists in the win over Cal State Fullerton.
  • He enjoyed his best offensive game of the season against No. 15 Purdue on Feb. 23 with a 25 points, including five 3-pointers. It was his second 20-point effort of the season and 13th of his career.
  • Watson put together a strong effort against Minnesota on Feb. 13, finishing with 19 points, while limiting Amir Coffey to 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
  • Watson led NU to a win over Penn State with 19 points and three assists. He scored eight straight Husker points late in the second half to extend a one-point lead.
  • He guided the Husker attack in the win over Creighton with 13 points, five assists and a season-high three steals, while holding Creighton’s Ty-Shon Alexander to just 2-of-10 shooting.
  • He showed his playmaking ability by dishing out eight assists and totaling 14 points in the win over Seton Hall.
  • His older brother Demetri McCamey was an All-Big Ten guard at Illinois during the 2009-10 season.
  • Watson is one of three alumni of St. Joseph to reach 1,000 points at Nebraska, joining Carl Hayes (1,136, 1990-92) and Clifford Scales (1,136, 1988-91). All three played for legendary high school coach Gene Pingatore, who is in his 50th year as coach at St. Joseph and has won over 1,000 games at the school.

ROBY FILLS STAT SHEET
Isaiah Roby compliments the Husker attack with a unique skill set. The 6-foot-8 junior averages 11.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.  He leads the Huskers in blocked shots and rebounding and is the only Big Ten player ranked in the top 10 in the conference in both blocked shots and steals as of March 3.

  • He is one of only five players nationally and three in power conferences averaging at least 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals per game as of March 3. The others are Duke’s Zion Williamson and Washington’s Matisse Thybulle.
  • Over his last seven games, Roby is averaging 12.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game.
  • Roby enjoyed one of his best performances against Northwestern on Feb. 16, as he had 19 points, 16 rebounds, five blocked shots, two steals and two assists in NU’s 59-50 win. His 16 rebounds was a career high while his five blocked shots matched a season best.
  • He collected his second double-double against No. 24 Maryland on Feb. 6 with 20 points, a career-high 14 rebounds and a season-high five blocked shots.
  • Roby put together a strong effort against No. 24 Wisconsin on Jan. 29 with 18 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
  • He keyed NU’s 70-64 win over Penn State with 22 points on 8-of-9 shooting, along with 11 rebounds and four blocked shots.

ALLEN ANSWERS THE BELL
Thomas Allen has emerged during his sophomore campaign, averaging 8.7 points per game on 44 percent shooting, including 36 percent from 3-point range, while chipping in 2.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He has been in double figures 10 times after reaching double figures twice as a freshman. Allen is eighth in the Big Ten in steals per game and is tied for the team lead in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.03-to-1). Allen suffered an ankle injury against Michigan on Thursday and his status for Tuesday’s game has not been determined.

  • He has been in double figures in nine of NU’s last 20 games after reaching double figures once in the Huskers’ first nine contests.
  • Allen had a career night at No. 15 Purdue when he came off the bench to tie his career high with 18 points, including 5-of-6 from 3-point range.
  • In the win over Minnesota on Feb. 13, Allen led the Huskers with a career-high nine rebound while also chipping in seven points and a team-high three assists.
  • Allen also had 18 points, five assists and four rebounds against Creighton and had 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting against Oklahoma State after missing most of the week with an illness.
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