Hoops notes: Ward continues efficient play in win over Terrapins
Heading into its matchup against Maryland on Thursday night, the No. 1 ranked men’s basketball team led the nation in several statistical categories, one of them being overall shooting percentage at 53 percent.
Every player in the Spartan’s starting lineup—Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, and Jaren Jackson Jr.—is shooting the ball at a generally efficient clip on the season at 47 percent or better. But one of the main reasons why the team is as efficient as it is, is sophomore forward Ward.
The Gahanna, Ohio native is shooting 72.1 percent on field goals. The only other player on the squad shooting a percentage anywhere close to that is redshirt-senior forward Gavin Schilling, who connects on 71 percent of his attempts, but Ward averages more than six more shot attempts per contest.
“I’ve just been playing my game, honestly,” Ward said after the win against Maryland. “Of course, I shoot to make it, but I’ve just been playing my game.”
Ward was limited to a season-worst three points in 11 minutes of court action in the Spartan’s Dec. 5 meeting with Rutgers, but the sophomore has shot 60 percent or higher in every game since then, and has shot 75 percent or better the last five games.
Head coach Tom Izzo said part of the reason why Ward was pulled from the game against Rutgers was because the forward was not responding well to double teams. Since that outing, however, Ward has been countering those occasional double teams opposing defenses scheme against him more effectively, and said his confidence playing against that type of defense never wavered.
“I’ve always been highly confident in my game, there’s nothing really that the defense did differently,” Ward said. “They played me straight up. Sometimes they'd double, sometime they didn’t.”
In the Spartans' 91-61 win against the Terrapins Thursday night, Ward was once again efficient with his shooting, taking eight shots and connecting on six of them.
The majority of Ward’s buckets came from inside the paint as they often do, but the 6-foot-8 forward showed a soft touch on his jump shot as well, stepping out and knocking down a 15-foot jump shot and then hitting a turn-around jumper out of the post the very next trip down the court.
Ward said that's actually a shot he practices quite often.
“I worked all the time on turnaround jump shots, and it’s just something I’m really confident in,” said Ward.
Ward finished with a team-high 16 points in the Maryland victory, and said he won't reveal what his go-to move is.
“Can’t tell you that. If I told you that they would scout that,” Ward said.
Tillman and Goins sightings: Freshman forward Xavier Tillman and redshirt-junior forward Kenny Goins both contributed mightily in the Spartans' win over Maryland, and helped spark a 15-3 run early in the game to close the first half.
Goins made two 3-pointers on the night, including his first career-make from beyond the arc, and finished with eight points in 13 minutes. Tillman put in six points in 12 minutes of action. Both forwards also collected five rebounds each.
Tillman has been playing sparingly throughout the season and averages just more than eight minutes of playing time per game, but the freshman helped ignite the Spartan’s offense in the first half by scoring on consecutive possessions and even showing hustle by diving out of bounds for a loose ball.
Up next: MSU will continue conference play on Sunday against Ohio State University in the team’s first true road game since their Dec. 5 win at Rutgers.
The Buckeyes (12-4, 3-0 Big Ten) currently share the top spot in the conference standings with the Spartans, and have won their last two outings against Iowa and Miami (Ohio).