Michigan State faces another big hurdle with Nick Ward out indefinitely
East Lansing – Michigan State found a way to get a win on Sunday with Nick Ward sitting on the bench for the bulk of the second half.
Now Michigan State will have to see how it fares with the junior center being out an indefinite amount of time as the team announced on Sunday evening that X-rays showed Ward suffered a hairline fracture in his left hand during No. 11 Michigan State’s 62-44 victory over Ohio State at Breslin Center.
“They felt like he might have dislocated a finger or something here,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I won’t know until they go through all the medical procedures, but it was a problem for us in the second half.”
The tests confirmed that problem will likely persist for at least the immediate future. In a statement released after the game, it says there is no timetable for Ward’s return and that he will be evaluated on a weekly basis with the hope he’ll return before the end of the season.
The loss of Ward comes at a critical time for Michigan State (21-5, 12-3). With just five games left in the regular season, the Spartans are tied for first place in the Big Ten with Michigan. The rivals face each other in Ann Arbor next Sunday, a game Ward almost certainly won’t play in. They square off one more time in the regular-season finale on March 9 in East Lansing.
Michigan State is already playing without junior guard Joshua Langford, who had season-ending surgery on his foot two weeks ago. He played in just two Big Ten games.
Ward scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds on Sunday, but all his points and four of the rebounds came in the first half when Ward played almost 16 minutes. The injury occurred at some point late in the half, though Izzo wasn’t clear on when or how it happened.
“Late in the first half, I guess,” Izzo said. “I didn't even see it. I don't know if he fell or he got hit on a rebound but when they came in… On the bench they said he hurt his hand and … it was hurting then, and they thought there was something wrong then. I don't know how many minutes left in the half, but not many.”
The training staff worked on Ward in the locker room and the 6-foot-9 center came back on the court just before the second half began. He was replaced by Xavier Tillman to start the half, but less than a minute in Tillman picked up his third foul and Ward checked in.
He lasted just 1:27 and asked to come out of the game. Trainers continued to work on the hand and with just more than 15 minutes to play, Ward asked to go back in the game. He did, playing another 2:03 before sitting the rest of the game.
“We thought maybe he could go,” Izzo said, “but he just felt like he couldn't go much.”
With Tillman battling foul trouble, it led to more extending playing time for freshman Thomas Kithier, who had two points and three rebounds in 10 minutes.
“We got a lot out of Kithier,” Izzo said. “He'll sleep well tonight. His 10 minutes will be like an hour of work.”
Those minutes will almost certainly increase now as Kithier likely joins the frontcourt rotation with Tillman and Kenny Goins. Freshman Marcus Bingham Jr. could also be called on for regular minutes.
Michigan State is seventh in the nation in defensive efficiency and leads the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense.
It was that play that helped the Spartans overcome a difficult offensive game as they held Ohio State to 44 points, including just 13 in the second half. That’s the fewest points Michigan State has allowed in a half all season while the Buckeyes were just 4-for-21 (.190) shooting in the second half and didn’t make a basket for the final 7:40.
“At halftime I think everybody made a commitment that we have to guard better,” Izzo said, “because we're going to have days where the ball doesn't go in. The better we guarded, the better our break went and the better the ball went in a little bit.”
Kaleb Wesson scored 12 points and was the only Buckeye in double figures. Guard C.J. Jackson had scored in double figures in six straight games but scored just eight while forward Andre Wesson had reached double figures in the last three games before scoring four on Sunday.
“We've just got to keep taking good shots,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “I think you give Michigan State credit, too, for how they defended, particularly in the second half, but really throughout the game.”
Michigan State senior Kenny Goins had 10 points and 10 rebounds for his fourth career double-double. All have come this season, including in games against Kansas (17 points, 11 rebounds), Iowa (19,14) and Maryland (14, 12).
… Senior Matt McQuaid didn't turn the ball over for the seventh straight game.