East Lansing — From more than 27 minutes a game to nothing can be tough on a basketball player, especially when trying to get back in the flow when games are few and far between.
That’s exactly the position Michigan State guard Matt McQuaid finds himself in now, having missed three games after suffering a deep thigh bruise a few weeks ago during the Spartans’ victory over Texas in the Las Vegas Invitational. The bruise led to bleeding in McQuaid’s thigh and swelled up on the flight home, making it difficult for McQuaid to freely move his leg.
That led to the three games on the bench, as junior Kyle Ahrens stepped in and played well in McQuaid’s absence.
But McQuaid returned Saturday in Michigan State’s victory at Florida, playing 18 minutes — a touch more than coach Tom Izzo planned to play the senior — and responded by making his only 3-pointer and playing key minutes down the stretch.
“I’m feeling good,” McQuaid said after practice Wednesday. “I’m almost at full range of motion now. Just feeling good, glad to be back out there. I’m going 100 percent on everything, going live on everything, so feeling good.”
It’s a welcomed sight for the ninth-ranked Spartans (8-2, 2-0) Big Ten, who have been limited at the point-guard position in McQuaid’s absence, forcing Cassius Winston to play extensive minutes.
That should be alleviated now with McQuaid back, which turns the focus on McQuaid getting back in game shape. It’s tougher to do with Michigan State in a stretch of just three games over nearly a three-week period.
“There’s definitely a difference between practice and game shape,” McQuaid said. “But my teammates and coaches are really helping me out and always encouraging me and helping me with things.”
Izzo isn’t as concerned about the lack of game time when it comes to McQuaid. It might be more of an issue for an inexperienced player, but McQuaid has played in 111 games in his Michigan State career, so adjusting to the schedule isn’t as big of a deal.
In fact, Izzo believes easing back into the schedule should help McQuaid.
“His leg is now fine, but his conditioning isn’t great,” Izzo said. “It ain’t bad, but I think the first couple of days (back from the injury) he felt good and now the fatigue settles in a little bit as he goes day after day. So, what we do with McQuaid is get him through this weekend and then I think the situation of not playing for a week really works to his advantage and we’ll be able to get him in shape and feel a little more comfortable.”
After Michigan State takes on Green Bay at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Breslin Center, it’s another chunk of time off before Oakland comes to town on Dec. 21. The non-conference season comes to a close on Dec. 29 when Northern Illinois visits the Breslin Center for a 2 p.m. tip-off.
By then, McQuaid should be in midseason forum.
“His shot was a little short after the first couple of days when he shot the hell out of it,” Izzo said. “But now I think it’s fatigue setting in. He’s not in great shape, but it’s not like he’s in terrible shape, so I don’t see any problem with McQuaid.”
As for whether McQuaid will eventually find his way back into the starting lineup, that’s something that continues to evolve. Ahrens has emerged in the last four games, playing 41 minutes in an overtime loss at Louisville in his first start while scoring the final seven points of the game in Saturday’s victory at Florida.
Izzo said this week he would lean toward going back to McQuaid as the starter, but expects both to have significant roles moving forward, and knows it will be a smooth transition considering how close the two players are off the court.
“We will look at what’s best for both of them,” Izzo said. “This week we will have to make some decisions. It won’t be a quarterback controversy because they will probably play similar minutes, but the one thing that McQuaid gives to us is he’s probably our glue guy. Kyle might be more instant offense than even Matt. Matt kind of brings everybody together. He’s another ball handler in there.
“I guess if I thought about it I would probably still be leaning toward (McQuaid), but I will talk to both guys. It’s a neat thing I can do with those two guys. We can talk about it. I can figure it out. I can figure it out with my staff. I don’t think it will be a decision that is going to rock anybody, either way.”
Ward nicked up
Izzo said junior Nick Ward “tweaked" his ankle during practice on Tuesday, helping lead to the decision to hold him out of practice Wednesday. Ward also had a final exam on Wednesday evening he was busy studying for, meaning he might not have practiced much anyway.
As for Sunday’s game, Izzo expects Ward to be ready to play.