BAS­KET­BALL Ward, Izzo move for­ward

Sopho­more cen­ter back in coach’s good graces af­ter bench­ing

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY MATT CHARBONEAU The Detroit News

East Lans­ing — Coach Tom Izzo and sopho­more cen­ter Nick Ward have kissed and made up — lit­er­ally.

Ward played just one minute, 11 sec­onds in Tues­day’s vic­tory at Rutgers and he spent most of the sec­ond half sit­ting qui­etly on the bench, even as his team­mates stood and cheered a closer-thanex­pected vic­tory for the thir­dranked Spar­tans.

After­ward, Izzo down­played the is­sue, say­ing Ward sim­ply had a bad game. Ward, too, said he felt fine af­ter the game but ques­tioned why his de­fense was be­ing sin­gled out.

Two days later, all truly seemed well and Izzo even gave the smil­ing Ward a kiss on the fore­head.

“I feel good. To­day is a great day,” Ward said af­ter prac­tice on Thurs­day. “It’s good to be back to my old state of mind.

“Every­body has a bad day and the other day was one of those days and you move on from it.”

Ward played 10 min­utes in the first half as a slug­gish Michi­gan State team found it­self tied with Rutgers. To start the sec­ond half, Ward and point guard Cas­sius Win­ston sat on the bench. Win­ston even­tu­ally got in the game and made two big 3-point­ers but Ward sat and stewed.

But any lin­ger­ing is­sues seemed to have dis­si­pated by Thurs­day.

“In all hon­estly, it’s so hard to ex­plain to every­body, but my relationship with guys has been, I guess you could say, ad­ver­sar­ial. I think it’s unique,” Izzo said. “And when I say unique is I don’t mind if a player gets mad at me, be­cause I get mad at him. The re­spect fac­tor is I un­der­stand that if it goes too far, then I do what I’ve got to do.

“That night, Nick was awe­some, to be honest with you guys. He was up­set. Nick was frus­trated. He’s get­ting dou­ble-teamed a lot. He ain’t the great­est guy at han­dling those kinds of things yet, but that’s part of the growth process. I could show you texts that night. He even wished me safe trav­els the next day. I thought he’d hope I’d drive off a bridge or some­thing.”

Izzo said he could sense be­fore the game that his team wasn’t in the right place.

“Just a sick feel­ing,” Izzo said. “Did I push the en­ve­lope once I saw that? 100 per­cent, yes. But I tell you, it’s hard to keep guys fo­cused in on what they gotta do for a long pe­riod of time and that was a game we couldn’t lose. We couldn’t lose that game.

“So when I say hon­estly, you guys talked to them and you know me, I don’t tell them what to say, so it was noth­ing. It was just come back to earth and fig­ure out what you been do­ing so well and con­tinue to do that be­cause it’s been suc­cess­ful for you.”

Ward has con­tin­ued to be one of the Spar­tans’ most ef­fec­tive of­fense weapons, av­er­ag­ing 13.3 points and grab­bing 6.1 re­bounds a game while av­er­ag­ing just 17.2 min­utes a game, the fewest of the fiver starters. Against Ne­braska, he scored 22 points in 16 min­utes.

Ac­cord­ing to both Ward and Izzo, though, the fo­cus has been all on mov­ing for­ward.

“There have been a lot worse in­ci­dents than with me and Nick,” Izzo said. “Nick’s got to work on the men­tal part of Nick. He’s got to work on not get­ting so an­gry over things. You can laugh, but I have to work on that too.”

Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Sopho­more cen­ter Nick Ward has had his is­sues on the de­fen­sive end this sea­son.

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