East Lansing — Coach Tom Izzo and sophomore center Nick Ward have kissed and made up — literally.
Ward played just one minute, 11 seconds in Tuesday’s victory at Rutgers and he spent most of the second half sitting quietly on the bench, even as his teammates stood and cheered a closer-than-expected victory for the third-ranked Spartans.
Afterward, Izzo downplayed the issue, saying Ward simply had a bad game. Ward, too, said he felt fine after the game but questioned why his defense was being singled out.
Two days later, all truly seemed well and Izzo even gave the smiling Ward a kiss on the forehead.
“I feel good. Today is a great day,” Ward said after practice on Thursday. “It’s good to be back to my old state of mind.
“Everybody has a bad day and the other day was one of those days and you move on from it.”
Ward played 10 minutes in the first half as a sluggish Michigan State team found itself tied with Rutgers. To start the second half, Ward and point guard Cassius Winston sat on the bench. Winston eventually got in the game and made two big 3-pointers but Ward sat and stewed.
But any lingering issues seemed to have dissipated by Thursday.
“In all honestly, it’s so hard to explain to everybody, but my relationship with guys has been, I guess you could say, adversarial. I think it’s unique,” Izzo said. “And when I say unique is I don’t mind if a player gets mad at me, because I get mad at him. The respect factor is I understand that if it goes too far, then I do what I’ve got to do.
“That night, Nick was awesome, to be honest with you guys. He was upset. Nick was frustrated. He’s getting double-teamed a lot. He ain’t the greatest guy at handling those kinds of things yet, but that’s part of the growth process. I could show you texts that night. He even wished me safe travels the next day. I thought he’d hope I’d drive off a bridge or something.”
Izzo said he could sense before the game that his team wasn’t in the right place.
“Just a sick feeling,” Izzo said. “Did I push the envelope once I saw that? 100 percent, yes. But I tell you, it’s hard to keep guys focused in on what they gotta do for a long period of time and that was a game we couldn’t lose. We couldn’t lose that game.
“So when I say honestly, you guys talked to them and you know me, I don’t tell them what to say, so it was nothing. It was just come back to earth and figure out what you been doing so well and continue to do that because it’s been successful for you.”
Ward has continued to be one of the Spartans’ most effective offense weapons, averaging 13.3 points and grabbing 6.1 rebounds a game while averaging just 17.2 minutes a game, the fewest of the fiver starters. Against Nebraska, he scored 22 points in 16 minutes.
According to both Ward and Izzo, though, the focus has been all on moving forward.
“There have been a lot worse incidents than with me and Nick,” Izzo said. “Nick’s got to work on the mental part of Nick. He’s got to work on not getting so angry over things. You can laugh, but I have to work on that too.”
“He’s learning how to deal with it. The double-team thing bothers him. I don’t know why it bothers him but it frustrates him and we got do a better job getting him the ball too. We saw some things where at times we didn’t get him the ball. That probably angers any big guy. But I swear to you, by the time we got home, that airplane ride home, it was like shut the switch off and he was like 100 mph.”