LINCOLN, Neb. -- Michigan State coach Tom Izzo isn't ready to call his team great after its 13th straight win.
But he said the Spartans (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today, No. 16 AP) showed they might be moving in that direction after beating Nebraska 68-55 on Saturday in a game that seemed closer than the score.
The Spartans toughed this one out after being confounded for long stretches by the Cornhuskers' defense and squandering most of a 15-point lead in the second half.
"We dealt with adversity three or four times, withstood it and I thought we did execute once they cut that 15-point lead down and Appling made some plays," Izzo said. "Sad to say, we didn't play real well. I think they had something to do with it. I was not disappointed in our effort. I was disappointed in our execution at times."
The Spartans (13-2, 2-0 Big Ten) are on their longest winning streak since the 1998-99 team won 22 straight. Eleven of the 13 have been by double digits.
Michigan State finished on a 15-5 run after Nebraska (8-5, 0-2) pulled within 53-50.
The Spartans won the game at the free throw line, making 19 of 21. Green hit all nine of his free throws.
"It's our first Big Ten road game," Green said. "Guys didn't know what to expect. That's my job, to pick games up, to help pick those guys up."
The Huskers made just one field goal over the last 6:48, and none after Austin Thornton made a 3-pointer to give the Spartans a 62-55 lead with 3:16 left.
"I couldn't be prouder of my team," Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said. "I thought they competed. I thought we played as hard as you can play, and I thought we did it for 40 minutes."
Michigan State has won its first two Big Ten games for the fifth straight season. Nebraska is in the middle of a stretch of eight games in which six opponents are ranked in the Top 25.
The Spartans proved too powerful inside against a Nebraska team that was without 6-foot-11 center Jorge Brian Diaz (sore feet) for a fourth straight game. The Huskers also were missing their fourth-leading scorer, guard Dylan Talley (thigh bruise).
The Huskers still turned in a game effort.
The slow-starting Spartans missed 8 of their first 9 shots, never led in the first half and were down 30-29 at the break. But 6½ minutes into the second half they were up by 15 points and looked ready to run away with the game.
"We tried to open the wing because they were trapping us so much," Izzo said. "We freed Keith up and he had a couple of those drives."
Nebraska didn't fold. Michigan State went 4½ minutes without a field goal, Spencer's 3-pointer finished a 16-4 run that pulled the Huskers to 53-50 with under 9 minutes to play.
Appling scored six straight points to build the Spartans' lead to 59-50, but Nebraska came back again. McCray hit a 3-pointer and Spencer made two free throws to make it 59-55 with 4:01 left.
Nebraska's offense stalled after Thornton's 3-pointer gave the Spartans a seven-point lead. Caleb Walker missed a 3 from the corner, Brandon Richardson committed a turnover and Green blocked Walker's 3-point try.
The Spartans didn't take their first lead until their opening possession of the second half, when Appling drove the lane to start a 18-4 run.
The Huskers opened the game much the way they did on Tuesday against No. 11 Wisconsin, when they carried the play before getting worn down and losing 64-40.
"I wasn't for sure that our team competed for 40 minutes against Wisconsin," Sadler said. "I thought we got down and frustrated. Tonight for 40 minutes our guys played as hard as they can play."
Spencer's consecutive 3-pointers gave the Huskers a 12-4 lead 5 minutes in, and Michigan State missed eight of its first nine shots on its way to 39-percent first-half shooting.
"You've got a hell of a coach, because the guy did a lot better job than I did today," Izzo said. "His team played as hard as anybody we've played. Give credit to Doc on that. Early they were swarming, they were moving."
Michigan State kept it close the first half largely because of its 22-10 rebounding advantage, including a 9-1 advantage on the offensive end.
Appling said the winning streak is the furthest thing from his mind. After all, the Spartans are on the road again on Tuesday at Wisconsin, which is coming off a loss at home to Iowa.
"We've just got to keep on playing," Appling said. "That (win streak) really doesn't mean anything. We've just got to keep going."