Coach Tom Izzo and the No. 11 Michigan State men’s basketball team (3-1) received quite the scare on Wednesday night in its 80-59 victory over Louisiana Monroe, when junior forward Nick Ward went down early in the first half with a non-contact ankle injury.
Without much knowledge on how long Ward was going to be sidelined, concerns were raised as to how the Spartans would handle such a treacherous slate coming up without their star forward. MSU is set to depart to Las Vegas to take on No. 20 UCLA (3-0) and either No. 7 North Carolina (4-0) or Texas (4-0), then heading back east to play a road game against Louisville (3-0).
Thankfully for the Spartans, figuring out how to play without Ward is a question they do not have to answer at the moment.
The forward got the nod to return to the court Sunday night in their match up against Tennessee Tech (0-5), in which the Spartans put up a dominate showing with a 101-33 victory, and tying their largest scoring margin in the program’s 120-year history. Three Spartans got into double figures in the points column, however their leading scorer was none other than Ward himself, proving his ankle was OK.
“The ankle, I think in all honesty, it was, when it happened and you watch it on film, it was the normal ankle tweak,” Izzo said after Sunday's game. “But I think when you’ve never been really injured, you get scared.”
However, after coming back and practicing over the next couple of days, Izzo decided to let Ward return the court Sunday night.
“I was gonna hold him out of this game, to be fair about it, but he practiced good the next two days, so I knew he was back,” Izzo said.
Ankle injuries are often tricky as it is such a tender part of the body. And when Ward initially went down, his frustration on the court might have led some to believe the injury was something far more serious.
However, Ward was mad about something else.
“I knew what it was, I just didn’t want to sit out,” Ward said. “I knew exactly what it was, I hate ankle sprains … I didn’t think it was anything that serious, I just didn’t want to sit out.”
In his return to the court Sunday, Ward put up 23 with 18 coming in the first half, on 83 percent shooting (10-for-12), recording his second 20-point effort in three games. He also brought in six rebounds and posted a pair of blocks to go along with his scoring efforts. Also worth noting is the fact that Ward accumulated just one personal foul after notching six over his first two showings of the season.
With his recent performance, Ward now brings his scoring average to 15.3 on the season, third most among his teammates. But among the Spartans' starting five he has proven to be the most efficient option on offense, as he leads the other four (forward Kenny Goins and guards Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid and Joshua Langford) in shooting percentage at 62.5 percent.
“He is improving the right-hand jump hook, he’s not getting as frustrated with the double teams,” Izzo said. “He’s getting back with that little quick jump hook of his. He’s getting lethal.”
Ward and the rest of his team will return to action Thanksgiving Day, as they are set to take on UCLA as part of the 2018 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. Tipoff is scheduled for 10 p.m. EST at the Orleans Arena.