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That the Nebraska men's basketball team was within seven points of a desperate Michigan State squad with less than nine minutes left Saturday was a small victory in itself.

But the way the Huskers lost to the Spartans in their return from a 27-day, coronavirus-forced layoff looked a lot like the defeats that came before.

Rust or not, it was another frigid offensive performance that put NU in a hole it couldn't dig out of in a 66-56 loss Saturday at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

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Nebraska could be forgiven for missing shots on this night, its first with a basketball game since Jan. 10 against Indiana.

"It was a good start back. We forced 22 turnovers so that was definitely good. But we're going to go back to work (Sunday), and just try to build," NU guard Trey McGowens said. "Honestly the layoff, it kind of messed a lot of us up team-wise. This whole week was draining because we had to get in shape in about four or five days. So that was kind of tough."

But a Husker team that came into Saturday's game ranked 237th nationally in three-point percentage, 267th in field goal percentage and 285th in free throw percentage did nothing to help itself in those areas Saturday.

Nebraska shot 36% from the floor, going just 7-for-28 in the first half. NU finished 3-of-17 from three-point range. 

And in a 10-point loss, the Huskers missed 13 free throws. NU finished just 11-of-24 at the line.

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The deciding stretch came over the final 9:25 of the first half, when Michigan State outscored NU 20-7 as the Huskers missed 12 of their final 14 shots to end the half and went more than eight minutes between made shots. 

Nebraska led 15-14 when the run started, and could get no closer than that seven-point deficit the rest of the way.

McGowens led Nebraska with 13 points and four rebounds. Lat Mayen added 10 points, hitting two of NU's three-pointers. Teddy Allen, who scored 23 in the teams' first meeting and was averaging 18 points per game, finished with three points Saturday.

Joshua Langford scored 18 points to pace Michigan State (9-7, 3-7). Aaron Henry added 16.

But, the Huskers were back on the court. And in a season where the most important ability is availability, NU's effort after less than a week of full-team workouts had head coach Fred Hoiberg feeling optimistic.

"I thought we really competed. That was the one thing I was really looking for tonight is to come out and give a really good effort. And for the most part I thought we did that, especially in the second half," Hoiberg said. "There's positives from a competitive standpoint; that's what I was looking for in this game. I had no idea what to expect with the layoff, but I'm really proud of them for going out there and fighting, and giving themselves a chance."

NU will stay on the road, traveling to Minneapolis on Saturday night ahead of a Monday game against Minnesota. If the Huskers can find some semblance of offense along the way, Saturday's return provided, if nothing else, a window to a way forward.

Contact the writer at cbasnett@journalstar.com or 402-473-7436. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.