On an afternoon honoring Nebraska assistant coach Chris Harriman’s son Avery and other children who’ve battled cancer, it took a strong performance from Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields to will the Huskers to victory.
“Our fans are so great and certainly tonight with the cause and the Harriman family, especially Avery,” Nebraska head coach Tim Miles said. “The strength and resolve they’ve shown and the lessons they’ve shown our players, it was such a neat night.”
Avery Harriman was quite happy with the outcome of the game and excited to see so many in attendance throughout the arena wearing the ‘Avery Strong’ t-shirts.
“It was great. I saw many ‘Avery’ shirts, I was so impressed by it. I couldn’t believe everyone wore my shirts, but I was so proud,” Avery said. “Thanks for everyone wearing my shirts.”
Coach Chris Harriman was certainly emotional seeing so much support for not only Avery, but other children who’ve needed bone marrow surgeries. Harriman was especially touched when the student section started the ‘Avery strong’ chant.
“It was just tremendous, just so many people supporting my son and the other children that were there, it was truly a night that I’ll never, ever forget,” Harriman said.
“I feel like as a coach and a player, I’ve been in a lot of big games and big wins. But this one was really special.”
Petteway finished with 32 points while Shields added 21 as Nebraska knocked off Michigan State 79-77 on Saturday afternoon. Despite being out-rebounded 48-26 by the Spartans, the Huskers made it count at the free throw line where they hit just enough down the stretch to pull out the victory. For the game, Nebraska was 29-of-37 at the line, while Michigan State struggled at 15-for-25.
The Huskers had to play most of the contest without forward Walter Pitchford, who was ejected for a flagrant two level foul with 16:20 left in the first half. Pitchford threw a right elbow at the head of Spartans’ forward Matt Costello and was tossed after officials reviewed the play.
“I thought Walt deserved to get kicked out,” Miles said of the technical on Pitchford. “I know he’s sorry for that mistake, but you don’t do that. That’s uncalled for. Walt will learn from that.”
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo thought the Pitchford technical helped put an extra spring in Nebraska’s step, which translated into a big Husker run in the first half.
“I just thought in a little way it energized them and the calls went different after that, I think they normally do,” Izzo said. “We had a gamplan going in with him, nothing major, we just didn’t respond I think.”
Forward David Rivers also missed the entire game after suffering a left knee injury in practice earlier in the week, which forced Leslee Smith into the starting lineup. Smith responded with seven points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes of game action, by far the most minutes he’s seen since returning from a torn ACL injury that saw him miss all of the non-conference portion of Nebraska’s season.
Miles was impressed with the contributions from his bench, including from Tai Webster.
“What I see is Tai playing his butt off. I thought he used to play with a little bit of cool to him, and you can’t be cool and play,” Miles said.
“He’s playing his butt off and that’s what matters.”
Nebraska (12-7, 4-3) held a 39-25 lead at halftime thanks to the play of Petteway and Shields. Petteway hit back-to-back three pointers during a 15-2 run that put the Huskers ahead 35-20 with 3:24 left in the opening half and carried the 14 point lead into the break. Petteway’s eight-footer from the baseline with six seconds left in the half gave him 15 points for the half, as Shields wasn’t far behind with 13 points and four rebounds. Webster saw 13 minutes of game action and added five points in the first half as the Huskers built their lead.
Michigan State (13-7, 4-3) would eventually trim the Nebraska lead to six after the Huskers had opened up a 45-28 lead early in the second half. Travis Trice’s three-pointer made it a 47-41 ball game with 11:55 remaining, but Nebraska responded with an 11-2 run, with Petteway’s three-pointer extending the Husker lead to 58-43 with 7:17 to play. The Spartans would hang around and closed the gap to 79-77 with 2.2 seconds remaining, but Shields threw a long in bounds pass into the front court for Benny Parker, who tipped the ball before Trice controlled it. However time ticked away and Michigan State could not get a shot off before time expired.
Izzo lamented his team’s shortcomings on Saturday, but praised Nebraska for making big shots and making their free throws when it counted.
“When you have 11 turnovers and you miss 11 free throws, you just aren’t going to win on the road against good teams,” Izzo said of the loss.
“Here is a team (Nebraska) that shoots 62 percent in Big Ten play, you have to give them credit because they made every free throw and shot their best percentage of the year.”
Besides Petteway and Shields, Webster played perhaps his best game of the season, adding 13 points and three rebounds as the Huskers searched for a third scorer after Pitchford’s ejection early in the game.
“It’s tough. It has actually been a really tough experience for me,” Webster said of his decreased role in previous games. “That is definitely something new.”
“I’m having a lot of fun now. I’ve had more fun now than I’ve ever had playing basketball at the moment.”
Petteway was impressed with how the bench lifted up the starters and played big minutes, considering they had lost two members of their starting lineup for most of the game.
“The bench play had to be big tonight. We couldn’t have just me, Shavon, or just our starting five scoring or whatever you want to call it,” Petteway said. “They came in and gave us great minutes.”
Trice led the Spartans with 27 points, but needed 24 shot attempts in the process while Denzel Valentine added 21. Branden Dawson nearly outrebounded Nebraska by himself, grabbing 18 rebounds to go along with eight points. Michigan State became just the second team to score more than 70 points against the Huskers this season, the other being Incarnate Word back on December 10.
The Huskers face Michigan in Ann Arbor on Tuesday night, while Michigan State is also on the road Tuesday night at Rutgers.