Nebraska played its way onto the NCAA tournament bubble and Terran Petteway played his way into contention for Big Ten player of the year Sunday during the Huskers’ 60-51 upset of No. 9 Michigan State.
The victory was the first for NU on the road against any ranked opponent in six years (No. 22 Texas A&M), and the first on the road over a team ranked as high as MSU in 17 years (No. 7 Iowa State).
“We battled our butts off,” coach Tim Miles told The World-Herald on Sunday night from East Lansing, Mich. “Our guys were locked in and poised from the very beginning.”
The Huskers (14-10, 6-6) controlled the game throughout, jumping to a 13-4 lead in the first 3˝ minutes, holding a 32-25 edge at halftime and never trailing in the second half.
Michigan State (21-5, 10-3) fell behind by 11 twice early in the second half, and never got closer than two at 51-49 with 4:01 to play. The Spartans led four times — the last at 20-18 with 6:02 to go in the first half.
“And that’s only because we went about nine minutes without scoring again,” Miles cracked. (It actually was 5:37).
“But it didn’t cost us. And we only had five turnovers and we controlled tempo and slowed our offense.”
Nebraska, picked to finish last in the 12-team Big Ten, now is alone in sixth place two-thirds of the way through league play. And it has a résumé-altering victory for postseason over a team many pundits are calling the national-title favorite.
“This is a great win for us and our program,” Petteway said. “To beat Michigan State, one of the elite teams in the country, is big. Now, we’ve got to keep doing it.”
The Huskers also have a game-altering player in Petteway.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore from Galveston, Texas — the Big Ten’s No. 2 scorer at 17.4 a game — fired in a game-high 23 points, including 14 straight for Nebraska from the 9:00 mark to 45 seconds left.
His 25-foot bomb that beat the shot clock with 2:31 to play provided the deciding margin at 54-51.
“Terran is such a clutch player,” said Miles, who then told a story on his postgame radio show about Petteway’s work last season while playing on the scout team during his redshirt year.
“We’d have the clock going and playing live basketball, and he made more of those shots. I said to my assistants at the time, ‘Next year, it’s going to be pretty easy at the end of a shot clock. I’m just going to give it to Terran and get out of the way.’ ”
Before Petteway controlled the stretch, sophomore forward Walter Pitchford helped Nebraska get off to a quick start.
The native of nearby Grand Rapids, Mich., scored 12 of his career-high 18 points in the first half. He added five rebounds and two steals in front of 30 to 40 friends and family.
Junior David Rivers, who started for the first time since Nov. 30, put his 6-7 frame to use against a bigger Michigan State team with six points, seven rebounds and two assists — all above his season averages.
Nebraska, now 5-1 in its past six games, plays at home Thursday against Penn State and Sunday against Purdue. The Huskers lost to both teams in the first half of Big Ten play.
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Video: NU coach Tim Miles at the postgame press conference: