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MSU's Goins, Tillman, Winston after win over UL Monroe Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News

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East Lansing — Michigan State got a win on Wednesday night, but it appears it also got a little bit lucky.

Cassius Winston scored 23 to lead the Spartans to an 80-59 victory over Louisiana-Monroe at Breslin Center, but junior big man Nick Ward suffered an injury to his right leg less than 8 minutes into the game. Ward was favoring his ankle as he hopped off the floor on his left leg straight to the locker room.

Ward did not return to the bench the rest of the game but it appears the injury won't keep Ward out for a long period. After the game, an MSU spokesman said early indications were that the injury is not serious, and Ward’s status is day-to-day.

"He just sprained his ankle," coach Tom Izzo confirmed. "I don't think it's anything serious. He was limping around in there a little bit. They haven't put a cast on him or anything.

Boc score:Michigan State 80, Louisiana-Monroe 59

"It's a low ankle sprain. I'll know more tomorrow. I really have no idea right now except that I know it's not severe."

With Ward out, it took some time, but once Michigan State got its offense rolling there was nothing that could stop it.

Overcoming a sluggish first half when the Spartans made just 2-of-19 from 3-point range, Winston sparked a second-half surge. He finished with 23, but it was his play in the first four minutes of the second half that made the difference. Winston scored 14 of Michigan State’s first 16 points as he made three straight 3-pointers to push the Spartans lead to 51-35. A dish to sophomore Xavier Tillman for a layup on the next possession gave Michigan State an 18-point lead, its largest of the game.

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MSU coach Tom Izzo after win over UL Monroe Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News

"I felt like one of the shots was gonna drop," Winston said. "I felt like we were getting all the shots that we wanted and eventually we were gonna hit some shots. That's the mindset we came out with."

Tillman picked up most of Ward’s minutes and finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds, both career highs. Junior Joshua Langford added 16 points for the Spartans while senior Kenny Goins had a career-high 15 rebounds.

"Cassius was phenomenal in the second half," Izzo said. "We moved the ball better and once he hit a couple shots he was ready to shoot."

Junior guard JD Williams scored 25 for ULM (2-2) while sophomore guard Michael Ertel scored 20 for the Warhawks.

Michigan State couldn’t buy a shot in the opening 20 minutes as the Spartans were just 11-for-39 from the field while shooting a miserable 2-for-19 from 3-point range.

Louisiana-Monroe took advantage with an early 8-0 run that gave the Warhawks a 14-13 lead less than 8 minutes into the game. Michigan State scored five quick points to retake the lead but Louisiana-Monroe was back on top, 20-18, after back-to-back 3-pointers from Michael Ertel.

The Spartans eventually scratched out the lead by scoring the next six points, then doing a good job of getting to the free-throw line in the final minutes, eventually taking a 35-29 lead to the locker room as Joshua Langford scored eight points.

Williams had 15 first-half points for Louisiana-Monroe while Ertel scored 10.

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By the time the second half was just more than 4 minutes old, the Spartans had broken the game open. The lead grew to 21 in the second half as the Spartans shot 54.8 percent in the second half.

"Cassius did what great players have got to do," Izzo said. "He needed to get the ball rolling and he did get the ball rolling and everybody picked it up a little bit.

"But with the injury (to Ward) we were dysfunctional and didn’t have a very good rotation."

The Warhawks were just 5-for-19 from 3-point range while Michigan State was 6-for-29 and outrebounded ULM 51-37.

Winston was 3-for-5 from 3-point range in the second half after missing his first five attempts. It was a welcomed sight for the Spartans guard.

"(It was) great," Winston said. "You saw first half, right? It felt good just for a shot to go in. A couple started going in and that felt amazing."

After allowing 92 and 82 points in each of its first two games, Michigan State was focused on playing better defensively. It limited ULM to 30.5 percent shooting, including 26.3 percent from 3-point range.

"I just think we brought the energy there," Goins said. "Maybe it made us tired on offensive end, maybe that was the reason we didn't shoot well. But that was (Izzo's) challenge to us today and we responded in the best way possible."

Michigan State returns to action Sunday when it host Tennessee Tech at 6 p.m. Then it's on to the Las Vegas Invitational next week with a game against UCLA followed by a matchup with either North Carolina or Texas.

Observations

1. The injury to Ward looms as the biggest news to come out of Wednesday night’s game. While it might be something the Spartans can overcome in the short term, any extended period of time without the 6-foot-8 center will be tough to overcome. The Spartans are not deep on the frontcourt and losing Ward would not only make things even more thin, it would take away one of the best low-post scorers in the Big Ten. With games next week against UCLA and potentially North Carolina, Ward’s absence would be critical. It would become an even bigger problem if it’s an injury that lingers into Big Ten play, with two conference games coming in a few weeks.

2. While the Spartans might be without Ward for a while, they absolutely can’t afford to be without Winston. The junior guard was the spark once again on Wednesday, showing in the second half why he is so important to Michigan State’s chances this season. He overcame a miserable shooting performance in the first half — 2-for-9 and 0-for-5 on 3-pointers — to be nearly unstoppable in the second half. With limited options on offense, the Spartans will need far more of second-half Winston than first.

3. Depth in the frontcourt was going to be an issue this season for Michigan State, but the injury to Ward makes it even more critical. The result is the Spartans’ bigs can’t get in foul trouble, namely Tillman. However, the sophomore played just 18:34 as he picked up his fourth foul midway through the second half. He later looked like he was suffering from a cramp in his leg, leading to more time on the bench. If Ward is out an extended period, staying out of foul trouble will be critical for Tillman as the Spartans will be forced to turn more to freshmen Marcus Bingham Jr. and Thomas Kithier.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter @mattcharboneau

 

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