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Michigan State banged up, but Nick Ward appears to be making progress

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Injured Michigan State players Joshua Langford and Nick Ward (right) sit on the bench before the game against Michigan in Ann Arbor. Ward appears to be making progress from a broken hand.

East Lansing — While Michigan State might have been worn out when it faltered late in Saturday’s game at Indiana, the Spartans are doing whatever they can to keep that from happening again.

That means figuring out a way to get Nick Ward back in the lineup while also finding a way to get Kyle Ahrens’ back to hold up for the rest of the season, and having Matt McQuaid’s sprained ankle heal completely.

Ward’s situation might be easier to predict. After having surgery on a broken bone in his left hand two weeks ago, the junior center is quickly getting closer to being in the lineup.

“Nick will not suit up for this game, for sure,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of Tuesday’s home game with Nebraska. “What he does for the next two weeks is yet to be seen. He does I think visit with the doctor on Wednesday. There will be some thoughts there.”

Ward has been shooting in practice and even nailed a half-court shot in Monday’s morning workout.

“It’s funny, he went through the layup line today and he was all smiles,” Izzo said. “We shoot a half-court shot before every home game to start practice. Who made the half-court shot, the only one on the team today? We usually make three of them and the last guy to shoot was Nick and the thing was picture perfect. It went right through, so maybe that’s a good omen.”

Trying to determine what Ahrens might be able to give over the final two regular-season games and beyond is a bit tougher. The junior wing has been battling a bad back for most of the season and re-injured it against Indiana, forcing him out of the game after managing only about 10 minutes of action.

“That’s gonna be day-to-day, if that,” Izzo said.

Izzo said he’s told Ahrens he will not practice this week in an effort to get him ready, which means playing Tuesday against Nebraska is far from a guarantee as the Spartans (23-6, 14-4 Big Ten) then get ready for the finale on Saturday against Michigan.

What Izzo did share was a meeting with Ahrens on Sunday that revealed why Ahrens has been fighting through the pain all season.

“He said, ‘Coach, you don’t understand. I came in with Quaido and Kenny (Goins) and I just want to send those guys out the right way, so anything I can do to help them,’” Izzo recalled, starting to choke back the emotion. “I looked at him, a broken-down guy that’s given me everything he can give me and that was a one of those moments, sitting in your office just you and a player, that kind of resonates and you kind of feel like, ‘Wow, am I lucky the position I’m in? I get to have conversations with guys that are kind of laying it all on the line.

“He was feeling the best he felt last week. We gave him a few days off and he practiced a few days and was feeling god. He took a charge in that game and I said, ‘Was that where it happened?’ He said, ‘No, it was a dive in front of our bench.’ The guy is a kamikaze pilot. He’s one tough SOB, and I can’t tell him to play three-quarter speed or half speed. It’s just not in his DNA.”

Izzo said McQuaid practiced Monday morning after missing practice all of last week.

“I think he’s getting close to 85 percent,” Izzo said.

Winston is Naismith finalist

Junior Cassius Winston was named Monday as one of five finalists for the 2019 Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

In addition to Winston, the other finalists include Josh Perkins (Gonzaga), Tremont Waters (LSU), Markus Howard (Marquette) and Ja Morant (Murray State).

Winston is averaging 19.2 points, 7.6 assists and 3.0 rebounds while shooting 47.4 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from 3-point range. He ranks third in the Big Ten in scoring and leads the league and ranks No. 3 in the country in assists. Winston is the only player in the country averaging at least 19.0 points per game, 7.0 assists per game and connecting on at least 40.0 percent of his 3-point attempts this season. 

Winston is also one of 30 players included on the midseason team for the Naismith Trophy player of the year, is on the top 20 watch list for the Wooden Award and is one of 12 players selected to the Oscar Robertson Trophy final midseason watch list.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau