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New faces shine and Spartans see slow start as Big Ten play begins CCLARK@STATENEWS.COM
As students felt relief, remorse and regret filling in scantron bubbles and submitting final essays, MSU men’s basketball (11-6 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) turned over the midterm leaf in its regular season. With an average 4-4 record on the season on Nov. 29, the Spartans had proved victorious against lesser competition but failed to defeat any of the four ranked opponents they played. While in Durham, N.C. to face off with then-No. 5 Duke University, the Spartans suffered a 78-69 loss, which dwarfed in comparison to another loss — a foot injury to the freshman forward Miles Bridges. At that time, Bridges led the team with 16.6 points per game and rebounds with 8.8 per game. His production on the court included a 21-point game in the season opener against then-No. 10 Arizona and three additional games with 20-plus scoring. His ability to corral rebounds appeared corner-
stone to the damaged front court, with offseason injuries to graduate transfer forward Ben Carter and senior forward Gavin Schilling. Against thenNo. 2 Kentucky, Bridges reigned in 12 rebounds. His season-high of 15 rebounds came three games later against St. John’s in the Bahamas. Ward holds down the fort After an 80-76 win against Oral Roberts University the Spartans’ first game without Bridges freshman guard Cassius Winston said there was an empty feeling without him on the court. “He’s a big part of what we are doing, there are a lot of plays that run through him early to get us going inside,” Winston said. “He’s got a lot of energy and a leader of this team and being without him was kind of different out there. At the end of the day we have to fight through adversity. He’s going to be back and better than ever so right now we just have to hold it down.“ Without Bridges, the heavily damaged front court for the Spartans gave way to a rising gem,
freshman forward Nick Ward. Out of the four highly-acclaimed freshmen this season, head coach Tom Izzo said Ward had the most progress to be made. Without the Carter and Schilling injuries, Izzo said Ward might not have seen much of the court this season. Against Oral Roberts, Ward dazzled on offense, scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for his first career double-double. “Nick Ward is a great post player, he can basically get a shot whenever he wants down there,” Winston said after Oral Roberts. “There is not a lot of people who can guard him down there.” In game two of the Spartans’ five-game homestand, Ward contributed 13 points and eight rebounds in a 20-point blowout against the Youngstown State Penguins, 77-57. Limited because of foul trouble in a 71-63 win against Tennessee Tech, Ward finished shooting a perfect 4-4 from the field. His ability to consistently knock down shots has given him a field goal percentage of 60.7 percent, second best in the Big Ten. Hiccup against Northeastern In three separate sports — men’s ice hockey, women’s basketball and men’s basketball — MSU squared off against Northeastern University on Dec. 18. The MSU men’s ice hockey team suffered an early 6-2 loss and the women’s basketball team rolled 78-44 behind a 19-point, 10-rebound performance from senior guard Tori Jankoska. While the series was locked 1-1, the MSU men’s basketball team took cover as the Huskies rained a barrage of 3-point baskets. Northeastern’s Alex Murphy, T.J. Williams and Devon Begley carved through the Spartans, combining for a total of 51 points. Together, the trio shot 17-19 from the free-throw line for 89.5 percent. “I can take nothing out of this game personally,” Izzo said following Northeastern. “We didn’t play well enough to win. Things I’ve been preaching all year. Winning and losing. Some of the games that we’ve lost, it’s come down to the small things. I have not been satisfied with the play of a couple guys. I have not been satisfied with the upperclassmen. I have not been satisfied with the toughness that they play with. What I take out of it, we need to get much tougher. We need to play
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Hot start in the Big Ten After a sluggish start at the Barn against Minnesota, the Spartans took a 13-point deficit into halftime. However, the Spartans collected themselves to eat away piece by piece at the Golden Gopher lead. From 13 points to six points, MSU was starting to get in a rhythm, however they couldn’t get over
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much harder.” The Spartans lost 81-73 and MSU lost the threegame series, 1-2. Ward, after showing progress throughout the season, received the honor of starting the game for the first time in his career against Oakland University. Ward finished over defenders, around defenders and added more from the free-throw line. Out of his 25 minutes played, Ward tallied a careerhigh 25 points, adding in nine rebounds as well. MSU defeated the Golden Grizzlies, 77-65.
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Freshman guard Miles Bridges (22) and head coach Tom Izzo talk with one another during the first half of the men’s basketball game against Rutgers on Jan. 4 at Breslin Center. PHOTO: NIC
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