Nick Ward, Michigan State dominate Northwestern
Nick Ward took a chance with a long jumper Wednesday night.
The shot? Not so pretty from 17-feet out, for the player known primarily for shots around the rim. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo shouted his displeasure with the shot from the sideline, but it was about the only thing the forward couldn’t do.
Ward finished with 21 points, as the eighth-ranked Spartans (12-2, 2-0 Big Ten) dismantled Northwestern (9-5, 0-3) at the Breslin Center, 81-55.
Ward was one of five MSU players to finish in double-digit figures, despite one point in the second half. Xavier Tillman was second with 14, tying a career-best last set against Florida earlier in the season. Cassius Winston scored his fourth double-double with 13 points and 12 assists. Kyle Ahrens, who started for Joshua Langford — who missed the game with a left ankle injury — finished with 11 points and Matt McQuaid had 10.
“They tied me up a little bit, but I felt great,” said Ward, who led all scorers.
Dererk Pardon led the Wildcats with 19 points.
The Wildcats opened the game shooting 5-of-7 from the floor and built a 13-10 lead within the first 5:35, while the Spartans were 3-for-7 in the same span. The Spartans, however, quickly found their shot and continued to go with Ward down low, as all of Ward’s 21 points were scored by the end of the half.
Despite Ward’s dominance, the Spartans used a well-balanced 11-0 run to establish a 37-24 lead, holding Northwestern scoreless for nearly four minutes until the 4:45 mark. Winston, McQuaid, Ahrens and Kenny Goins each chipped in during the stretch.
The spurt was broken up by a layup from Pardon, but MSU followed it up with another 10-0 stretch to establish a 47-28 advantage at the 2:47 mark — highlighted by three-pointers from McQuaid and Tillman in transition.
Wildcats coach Chris Collins said his team looked worn out from MSU’s fast-paced play, which he called one of the best offenses he’s seen.
“I never thought we adjusted defensively to their physicality and to their speed,” he said. “You can simulate it in practice and we do have a number of new guys — a number of freshmen that have not played here and have not played against them.”
“You can just sense when they’re getting tired and it’s hard to keep pushing, keep running with us,” said the junior point guard. “It’s hard to guard like that for an extended amount of time.”
The Spartans entered halftime with a 52-32 lead, converting 21-of-30 (70.0 percent) shots from the field and out-rebounded the Wildcats 22-9.
Shots continued to fall in the second half, just at a slower pace due to foul trouble. The Spartans committed five fouls in the entire first half but started the second with eight team fouls in the first 7:22.
Northwestern, however, was unable to capitalize on MSU mistakes — the Wildcats forced 11 second-half turnovers but resulted in nine points. The Wildcats converted on 13-of-28 shots from the field in the final 20 minutes, including 1-of-13 from deep.
After playing 16 minutes in the first, Ward played eight after halftime and went 0-for-2 from the field. He was benched after the 8:25 mark after committing his third foul, resulting in his second and final turnover.
“I felt bad for him because I had to take him out,” Izzo said. “It was getting so crazy in there I thought it was, being honest with you, getting out of control and this time I don't think it was his fault.”
The game marked the continuation of conference play, which MSU will play the remainder of the regular season. The Spartans had also played Rutgers on the road on Nov. 30 and Iowa in East Lansing on Dec. 3.
The Spartans return to the floor Saturday (noon/FOX) at No. 14 Ohio State (12-1, 2-0) in Columbus. Over the last two seasons, MSU is winless in two tries against the Buckeyes at the Schottenstein Center.
Five of MSU’s next seven are on the road, a stretch Winston calls pivotal if the Spartans wish to content for their second straight Big Ten regular-season championship.
“It’s going to be us against the world,” he said. Teams are gonna make their runs, it’s their home gym. “... We’re going to do what we do and stick together — make plays, make easy plays and we’re gonna make our push.”