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Michigan State Basketball: Nick Ward, big men dominating for Spartans

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NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans ran the Northwestern Wildcats out of the gym in a dominating performance last night, as the team improved to 12-2 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten. MSU won its seventh game in a row, and Nick Ward led the charge with 21 points (all in the first half). While he was quiet in the second half as the Spartans had an enormous lead, the junior big man has been on a tear as of late.

Ward is averaging a career high 16.4 points per game this season. He’s also averaging 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and an assist per game, while shooting about 66 percent from the field. But during Michigan State’s current seven-game winning streak, Ward has been on another level. He’s averaging 19 points, seven rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, while shooting an absurd 72 percent from the floor. There was a ridiculous four-game stretch in this period from Dec. 3 through Dec. 21 where Ward missed only four shots combined (34-38, 89.4 percent) — and that included games against quality opponents in Iowa and Florida.

According to Sports Reference, Ward’s Per 40 minutes numbers this season are off the charts. In this view, his averages look like 29.9 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 1.8 assists and 0.6 steals per game. In the Per 100 possessions view, Ward has an offensive rating of 122.3, which is a career high, and a defensive rating of 91.2.

While Ward has been the main catalyst during the winning streak, the other bigs have stepped up with efficient play. In the last seven games, Xavier Tillman is averaging 10.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 2.1 assists per contest. These are all up or equal to his season averages of 8.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.9 blocks on a per game basis.

Tillman is also making his shots at an insane 71.7 percent clip and averaging more than a steal per game during this period. He has matched his career high point total (14) three separate times during this seven-game stretch. He seems really close to having a breakout game in terms of scoring very soon. His Per 40 numbers this season are beautiful, with 16.3 points, 15.5 rebounds(!), 4.1 assists, 3.5 blocks and 2.0 steals. Wow! His offensive rating per 100 possessions is 127.7.

Meanwhile, Kenny Goins is never going to be a scoring dynamo, but he has brought so much to the table for the Spartans this season with his grinder attitude. Looking at the season in total, Goins is averaging 6.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.3 blocks so far. He’s also the best free throw shooter of the three players, making just under 71 percent from the charity stripe. Per 40, Goins is averaging 10.4 points, 14.6 boards, 3.7 assists and two blocks. During this seven-game winning streak, it’s really been his rebounding that has stood out. He’s pulling down about 8.6 rebounds per contest in this stretch, to go along with 7.4 points points, 1.85 blocks and 2.7 assists.

All three bigs have been strong in conference play as well. Here are their averages in three Big Ten games so far this season:

Ward: 22.3 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 0.0 APG, 1.3 BPG, 0.0 SPG, 68.4 percent FG, 53.6 percent FT

Tillman: 13.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 2.3 BPG, 0.3 SPG, 75 percent FG, 89 percent FT

Goins: 10.0 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.3 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 50 percent FG, 80 percent FT

This is the Nick Ward that we have all wanted to see for the past three seasons. Ward’s attitude is much better this season as well.

If the main big men continue to play like this, coupled with the outstanding play of point guard Cassius Winston, this squad can compete with any school in the country. And frankly, this team is a lot of fun to watch right now.