Jordan Hooper scored a game-high 25 points as Nebraska outlasted No. 25 Michigan State, 59-54, in a defensive struggle at the Bob Devaney Sports on Thursday night.
Nebraska notched its second straight Big Ten win to improve to 4-3 in the conference, while moving to 14-6 overall. It was the Huskers' second win over a top-25 foe this season, joining a December victory over then-No. 24 Florida State.
Michigan State, which was led by a career-high 22 points from Kiona Johnson, slipped to 16-3 overall and 4-2 in the Big Ten. Johnson hit a career-high four three-pointers on the night, going 4-for-9 from long range. She entered the contest 2-of-23 on the year.
It was the Spartans' first conference road loss. MSU's only other league setback came to No. 8 Penn State in East Lansing.
Hooper, who hit 9-of-18 shots from the field, including 3-of-7 three-pointers, became the first opponent leading scorer on the season to get her season average against the stingy Spartan defense. MSU entered the contest surrendering just 47 points per game, while Hooper was averaging 17.8 points per game on the year.
Hooper led a dominant Nebraska inside game that outscored the Spartans 34-18 in the paint. Hooper added seven rebounds to help the Huskers outrebound Michigan State 39-38, after MSU entered the game with a plus-11.2 rebound margin in Big Ten play.
"I was really excited about the points in the paint numbers," Nebraska Coach Connie Yori said. "The rebounding numbers were also really important for us tonight. It wasn't pretty, and we didn't think it was going to be, but that's a big win for us because Michigan State is a really good basketball team, especially defensively."
Nebraska also got the only six fastbreak points in the game, as the Husker defense did not allow any easy baskets. The stellar defensive effort by NU, which held the Spartans to just 32.2 percent (19-59) shooting, allowed the Huskers to overcome a 10-for-19 performance at the free throw line.
Senior point guard Lindsey Moore added 12 points and game highs with six assists and three steals. All eight Huskers who played in the game found the scoring column, including six points, five rebounds and three assists from sophomore forward Emily Cady. Hailie Sample added four points and six rebounds, while Tear'a Laudermill pitched in four points and two assists.
Reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week Rachel Theriot managed just two points while hitting her only shot attempt, but the 6-0 guard matched Hooper with a game-high seven boards - all on the defensive end. She also dished out two assists.
Meghin Williams added three points and three big rebounds, while sophomore forward Katie Simon gave the Huskers a huge lift with three points and a defensive stop in just two trips up and down the court in one first-half minute.
Nebraska took a 30-23 lead into the locker room at halftime thanks to 50 percent (13-26) shooting for the Huskers. NU got to the rim time after time in the first half, and Hooper hit a pair long three-pointers over the outstretched arms of Spartan defenders. Hooper led the Huskers with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the opening period. Her second three of the half gave the Huskers a six-point lead with 48 seconds left and moved her into sole possession of second place on NU's career three-point list ahead of Yvonne Turner with 184.
The Huskers closed the half on an 8-2 surge to take their biggest lead on Moore's free throw with 16.7 seconds left. NU hit its last five shots from the floor in the half, while MSU closed the half by connecting on just two of its last 10 shots. Moore added five points and four assists in the first half.
Nebraska's defense was solid in the first half, holding the Spartans to just 25.8 percent (8-31) shooting from the field, including 2-of-7 from long range. Johnson led MSU with 11 points, including a pair of three-pointers, after entering the game just 2-of-23 from long range. Jasmine Thomas added six first-half points for MSU, including the Spartans' first four points of the game.
Hooper scored NU's first five points of the second half to help the Huskers stay in control. The Spartans cut the lead to three points at 37-34 on a three-pointer by Courtney Schiffauer with 15:17 left. Schiffauer finished with 11 points on the night on 3-of-4 shooting and a 4-of-5 effort at the line.
But the Spartans could get no closer the rest of the way. Akyah Taylor hit a putback for MSU with 12:38 left to keep the NU margin at 43-39, but the Huskers held the Spartans without a field goal for the next nine minutes.
Moore scored a pair of layups as NU rebuilt its lead to seven at 47-40. Three free throws put the Husker margin at 50-41 with 4:57, before a Hooper layup with 3:56 finally gave Nebraska a double-digit lead at 52-41 with 3:56 left.
Nebraska maintained a 10-point lead at 58-48 with 1:15 left, before Michigan State got a couple of late layups from Thomas to cut the final margin to five. Thomas finished with 10 points.
The Huskers will take the weekend off before returning to Big Ten road action at Ohio State on Thursday, Jan. 31. Tip-off between the Huskers and Buckeyes is set for 7:30 p.m. (central) in Columbus, Ohio, with live national television coverage on the Big Ten Network.