MSU’s Ward struggles in spoiled homecoming

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Columbus, Ohio — It wasn’t exactly the homecoming Nick Ward was looking for.

The Michigan State freshman from Gahanna, Ohio, just a little more than 10 miles east of Ohio State’s campus, was hoping to have a big game Sunday in front of what amounted to a hometown crowd.

Instead, the 6-foot-8 Ward struggled, scoring nine points and turning the ball over three times, including a costly one in the final minutes of Ohio State’s 72-67 victory over Michigan State on Sunday.

“Nick was in a situation where he comes back home and just looked out of sync,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “And that was too bad. It was probably his worst game and he’s been playing awfully well, so we’re gonna have to regroup there.”

Ward has been one of the brightest spots of Michigan State’s season, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors three times while becoming one of the Spartans’ most effective offensive weapons.

Before being held to nine points in Wednesday’s win over Minnesota, Ward had scored in double-figures in 11 straight games and had a pair of double-doubles in that stretch. On Sunday, he had a hard time but wasn’t pinning it on the fact he was back at home.

Spartans lack 'intensity,' suffer setback at Ohio State

“Nah,” said a dejected Ward. “It means a lot since I’m home, but I take them like every other team.”

Ward was hampered by early foul trouble and was in and out of the game in the first half. By the time the second half got rolling, Ward didn’t have a big part in the offense and never truly found any sort of rhythm.

It’s something junior guard Tum Tum Nairn knows a bit about after playing three games early this season near his home in Nassau, Bahamas. But he said he and his teammates needed to do a better job of supporting Ward.

“Any time you play at home you want to play good and you put pressure on yourself,” Nairn said. “But we couldn’t stick together.”

Rotational fallout

Michigan State continues to struggle and find the right rotation, something that was again an issue on Sunday. The Spartans hit their first six shots of the game but substitutions came quickly and the offensive flow disappeared.

Izzo said the reasoning was a couple of players were already making defensive mistakes and he is trying to keep freshman Miles Bridges from playing more than three or four minutes at a time. Still, he conceded the substitution patterns were a problem.

“I question that a little bit,” Izzo said. “We’re still always trying make sure we get Miles three or four minutes and out. That was one (reason). We were not real happy with one of our players so that was one. We had some other subs that we play and they didn’t play as well today. It was a good run but I’ll take all the blame for the substitution.”

Bridges said it didn’t affect his play.

“I was comfortable from the jump,” he said. “I was trying to get stuff going to the basket. I hit a lot of threes but I knew they would come out and guard me so I could get past them. So I was trying to get to the basket, get easy points.”

One fallout of the problems with the rotation was the fact Eron Harris played a season-low 13 minutes, including only three minutes in the second half. He started both halves and even scored early in each, including a pair of shots to start the second.

However, when Michigan State was attempting to rally in the second Harris was not on the floor.

“I’ve been telling you guys we need more from (Matt) McQuaid and Eron Harris,” Izzo said. “That didn’t happen today. But we didn’t play good enough and you have to give Ohio State credit. They deserved to win. … It was a tough game and they played better than us to be honest.” @mattcharboneau