Nick Ward rates a perfect 1 for Michigan State

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State's Nick Ward is defended by Nebraska's Isaiah Roby during the second half.

Lincoln, Neb. — Michigan State is the best 3-point shooting team in the Big Ten and among the best in the nation this season.

The Spartans are making 39.8 percent of their 3-pointers this season and it’s clear who the best shooters are. Junior guard Cassius Winston is probably Michigan State’s best while senior Matt McQuaid can get rolling from deep and junior Joshua Langford, when healthy, is shooting nearly 40 percent.

But none of them are perfect from 3-point range.

That distinction lies only with junior big man Nick Ward.

“Yes,” Ward exclaimed on Thursday. “I am the best shooter in MSU history!”

Of course, Ward was having some fun after No. 6 Michigan State had just knocked off Nebraska, 70-64, for its 11th straight victory.

But it also included a 3-pointer from Ward, making him 2-for-2 for his career.

“I was just saying that before the game,” Ward said. “I was telling Foster (Loyer), ‘You know, I haven’t shot a 3 this year,’ and then it came. I took advantage of my opportunity and knocked it down.”

The opportunity came early in the first half on Thursday with Michigan State holding a one-point lead. The shot clock was winding down and Winston found himself double-teamed and dished to the only open man. That man happened to be Ward, who had only one option — shoot.

It hardly touched the rim and Ward ran down the court with a smile.

“Nick Ward came through a little bit and found a way to get 15,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “He got 10 boards, was doing a lot of the things we asked him to do, made two free throws and played 30 minutes.

“I thought Nick did a hell of a job (with the double teams), and he hit a 3, so that should satisfy him for a week or 10 days.”

Ward’s only other 3-pointer came last season in a win over Southern Utah.

Playing shorthanded

Michigan State was without guards Joshua Langford and Kyle Ahrens at Nebraska.

Langford missed his fifth straight game because of an ankle injury while Ahrens was out for the second consecutive game because of a bad back. The nature of the back injury forced Ahrens to stay back in East Lansing instead of sitting on a plane for an hour-and-a-half, something that could aggravate the back issues.

Freshman Aaron Henry got his second straight start, scoring nine points in 19 minutes. He scored five during Michigan State’s 7-0 run in the second half that allowed the Spartans to pull away. It was his 3-pointer with 9:26 to play that sparked the run.

“There really wasn’t much going through my mind at the time,” Henry said. “I was open. I just let it fly. I work on that shot every day, so it wasn’t like a different feeling. It was just a bucket we needed.”

Freshman Gabe Brown also saw extended playing time, scoring three points and grabbing four rebounds in nearly 21 minutes.

Kudos for Winston

After a fast start to the season, the honors keep rolling in for Winston. Earlier in the week, the junior guard was named to the midseason All-American first team by the Sporting News. On Thursday, he earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated.

“Winston is the engine that makes the sixth-ranked Spartans go,” Sports Illustrated writes, “ranking fifth nationally in assists with 7.4 (per game).”

Entering Thursday’s game at Nebraska, Winston leads the Spartans (15-2, 6-0 Big Ten) in scoring at 17.6 points, having scored in double figures in 16 of 17 games, and has knocked down 45.4 percent of his 3-pointers.

He's helped keep Michigan State rolling, despite injuries to starter Joshua Langford and key reserve Kyle Ahrens. Michigan State is on an 11-game winning streak.

“(Winston) has become even more invaluable of late after an injury to backcourt mate Joshua Langford,” Sports Illustrated writes.

Slam dunks

Michigan State wore patches on its uniforms Thursday honoring former coach Gus Ganakas, who died last Friday at the age of 92.

Ganakas coached the Spartans from 1969-76 and compiled an 89-84 record, posting a winning record in each of his last five seasons. His best seasons were in 1973-74 with a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten, and in 1974-75, when the Spartans posted a 17-9 overall record, the second-highest victory total at the time.

… Nebraska entered Thursday’s game having won 20 straight home games, matching a program record established in 1967. Michigan State has now won a program-record 19 consecutive Big Ten regular-season games. The record was set over the course of the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons.

Michigan State’s last regular-season loss was on Jan. 13, 2018, at home against Michigan.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau