The biggest limitation put on the Michigan State Spartans this season, outside of playing the Duke Zion Williamsons, is the team’s health. Friday, MSU survived their first postseason game and, hopefully, took a step towards getting healthier.
One of the most talked about stories heading into the Big Ten Tournament was the return of forward Nick Ward. The junior big-man had missed the last five games of the regular season with a fracture in his hand. In his first game back, Ward played sparingly. But his presence was clearly felt with improved depth, if nothing else.
Ward came off the bench with eight points and two rebounds in 14 minutes of playing time. After the game, Ward sounded optimistic about his return and continued improvement.
“It felt great to get back out there with my teammates. You know, the first game out the way,” Ward said to NCAA reporter Andy Katz. “I’m at like 90 percent conditioning-wise, and first game jitters really didn’t help either. But I feel like tomorrow will be a lot better.”
Getting his game-legs back will be the most important feature to Ward seeing more playing time as the conference tournament, and eventually NCAA Tournament, continue. However, that’s not the only limitation the third-team All-Big Ten player is facing. Ward played the whole game with a wrap on his hand.
After making his first shot attempt of the game, Ward struggled to corral a rebound. Something that he will have to deal with the entire time he wears the wrap.
“There are going to be moments like that, just because of the type of wrap I got on my hand,” Ward said of the fumbled rebound. “But, you know, I’m just going to try and do my best to overpower it, overcome it, you know, and play through it.”
Ward wasn’t the only star dealing with an injury. The scariest thought most Spartans fans can imagine this season is losing Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston for any extended period. After the game, Tom Izzo said the guard had been dealing with a toe injury all week that limited him Friday.
Winston struggled through the first half and was seen on the sideline getting yelled at by Izzo. In his post-game interview, however, Izzo said that Winston injured his toe in the regular season finale against Michigan. The injury limited him through practice and Izzo hinted that it may have been an issue against Ohio State.
The point guard joined the Big Ten Network postgame show and seemed to shake off the injury. Winston said the injury came against UM when he “kind of planted off of it wrong.” He went on to call the injury a sprain.
Both Winston and Ward seemed confident about their health situations heading into Saturday’s semifinal game against Wisconsin. While a win at this point in the tournament likely means little to the big-picture for Michigan State, the argument now becomes what is better for the team’s two stares – rest, or preparation?
Fortunately, both appear to be ready to do whatever is asked of them to help the team.
“Whatever my team needs to win, I’m going to do,” Ward said. “Whatever my coach needs.”