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MSU’s Nick Ward sweeps weekly Big Ten honors

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State center Nick Ward was named the Big Ten Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week on Monday, becoming the first freshman to be named the conference’s top player this season.

Ward averaged 21 points and nine rebounds while shooting 68 percent from the field in wins over Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Against the Cornhuskers, Ward scored 20 points and pulled down nine rebounds in 24 minutes and followed that with 22 points and nine rebounds in the win over the Badgers. Ward was also a perfect 4-for-4 from the free-throw line against Wisconsin, bumping his free-throw percentage up to 58.4 for the season.

“I have to give credit to my teammates. It was really a team effort,” Ward said after the win Sunday over Wisconsin. “I feel like we put it together, and we played well. They got into foul trouble early, so we just had to keep attacking.”

Ward was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week three previous times this season, the last coming on Jan. 2. However, the 6-foot-8 center went through his share of struggles from that point and was pulled from the starting lineup after a road loss to Michigan.

Since then, however, he’s bounced back, scoring in double figures in five of the last six games.

“Nick is a load down there,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Nick’s going to be such a good player. He’s gotten better, he’s more coachable, he understands things, and he can take it now. He understands that we all are in this together and that we are trying to make him better and I just love the way that he responded.

“After the Michigan game, we benched him and he stepped up. He has been, consistently, a much better player since. He still has some lags in his defense at times, stepping up on those ball screens, but at least I know that it matters to him now and I’m really proud of him and what he’s done. Hopefully, the best for him is yet to some too.”