Ward bounces back for MSU despite starting game off bench
It’s not just a new haircut for freshman forward Nick Ward — it’s the turning of a new leaf.
Ward came to the court in MSU’s (15-10, 7-5 Big Ten) win over the University of Iowa (14-12, 6-7 Big Ten) with a renewed mindset after the Spartans had to quickly rebound from a 29-point loss to University of Michigan Tuesday night. Ward and his new hairdo would have to watch from the bench from the start after an unsettling performance against the Wolverines.
Against U-M, Ward finished on par statistically with his season average: 13 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes, but was issued a technical for tripping forward Moritz Wagner at the end of the first half when the Spartans trailed their rival by 26 points.
“It was the most inexcusable thing there was (about the game),” head coach Tom Izzo said after the team’s loss to U-M.
Izzo said during the team’s media availability after practice on Thursday he talked with Ward about the play, but would not comment any further on it.
Grayson Allen or Nick Ward? pic.twitter.com/wIoQiWL2wh— Evan Petzold (@EvanPetzold) February 8, 2017
In place of Ward was redshirt-sophomore forward Kenny Goins, a walk-on who started his 14th game of the season for MSU and finished the game on Saturday with three points, two assists and 10 rebounds in 22 minutes.
Ward acknowledged his mistake came from a mental lapse in a heated moment and said it’s now a memory he’s putting behind him.
“I know what I did was wrong,” Ward said in the locker room after the game. “I had to pay the consequences for it and I deserved it.”
Goins played the first 3:45 of the first half until Ward subbed in. Ward drew a foul less than a minute later.
The Spartans trailed the Hawkeyes by a point going into halftime as it was a tale of two halves for most of the team. Ward’s lone score of the half came roughly seven minutes into regulation — an alley-oop slam off an airmailed pass from freshman guard Cassius Winston. The rest of the first half for Ward resulted in a turnover, one rebound and a pair of fouls, which hindered the freshman from playing the remainder of the half after just four minutes on the court.
In contrast to his first half, Ward finished the game with the second-highest scoring total for the game with 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting, along with five rebounds, an assist and a block in 16 total minutes. Ward also finished a perfect 4-for-4 from the free-throw line, a mark where his season average is just above 55 percent.
“I really like the haircut, I think it made him play better,” freshman forward Miles Bridges said. “I just told him to keep his cool and don’t get into any altercations. Just play his game.”
Despite the limited action, Ward’s 14 points helped combine for the first game this season where each of the four team’s freshman finished in double-digit scoring. Bridges ended with a game-high 16 points and 11 rebounds for a double-double. Guards Josh Langford and Winston finished with 11 and 12 points, respectively. MSU’s freshmen combined for 19 of the team’s 29 baskets, scoring the bulk of the 48.3 percent of shots made from the field.
“Maybe it was the haircut,” Izzo said jokingly in response to Ward’s performance. “I thought Nick was as dialed in as I’ve seen him this year. When he got his second foul he had to come out and he stayed dialed in.”
Play from Izzo’s freshman class was a large component in the win over the Hawkeyes. As a team on the outside looking into the NCAA Tournament, the game was pivotal. Each game going forward will have heavier implications for the Spartans.
“This was a big win for us,” Izzo said. “We did an unbelievable job defensively, and I thought an unbelievable job rebounding the ball.”
Up next for MSU will be the visiting Ohio State University Buckeyes (15-11, 5-8 Big Ten) on Valentine’s Day. The Spartans and the Buckeyes faced off earlier this season on Jan. 15, when MSU fell to Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, by a final score of 72-67.
Tipoff at the Breslin Center for Tuesday’s game is scheduled for 9 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN.