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Michigan State and Minnesota return, this time in the second round of the NCAA tournament. What's different, March 22, 2019.
Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press

Des Moines, Iowa – Nick Ward attacked the glass and flashed steel at the defenses.

He played hard and met at will. He even moved the ball and hit with some distance.

That was in early February against Minnesota before a hair break required surgery, forcing him to miss five games and weakening in the left hand of the Michigan State striker he shoots

Now Tom Izzo is expecting more again from the offspring, as the 2-seeded Spartans (29-6) compete in Saturday's second round of the NCAA tournament against the 10th seed Gophers (22-13) for a journey to Sweet 16's line.

"I think Nick is getting so far that he can return," Izzo said on Friday. "I think he will be an important part of this game for us."

[Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press]

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"I'm very excited, "Ward said. "I'm just beginning to feel myself. I'm looking forward to getting back on the pitch and feeling normal again. Ward hopes to return to the form he showed in this game on 9 February against the Gophers, a win of 79-55 in front of Magic Johnson and the MSU National Championship Team in 1979. He scored 22 points and took nine rebounds to answer a challenge from Izzo after losing three games against the Spartans.

Ward also teamed with Xavier Tillman to hold Jordan Murphy of Minnesota at five points. 4 shots) and six rebounds. Jordan Oturu, a 6-10, 225-pound freshman, had 12 points and seven boards that day, but made only five of his 12 shots.

"It will be a physical battle for the big ones. … If I and Nick guard Jordan Murphy and Oturu, we will do our best to be as physically fit as possible, "Tillman said. "This is definitely a better matchup. Murphy can do that, but he will not do much dribbling. He'll deal with it more directly, so it'll be much better for Nick. And on the other hand, Murphy is a strong guy, and Nick is good at pulling fouls, so hopefully he can pull some important fouls. "

Eight days after that performance, Ward broke his hand in a win over Ohio State. At that time, he had an average of 15.1 points and 6.7 rebounds, which earned him an all-Big-Ten third-place finish, despite the injury that slowed him down for the rest of the regular season. On March 15, he returned to the Big Ten tournament, adding a clip made for him by coaches and students from MSU College of Engineering.

Since then Ward has struggled with his stamina and hand strength – as well as unfavorable matches with smaller, faster post players. On average in the last four games of MSU he scored in only 10.8 minutes only 5.5 points and 2.8 rebounds. Ward has shot 43.7 percent out of the field and 80 percent out of the line, but he said the hand-wrapped game affected his touch and his ability to handle passes and rebounds. Izzo said. "It was a process and not all his fault. I think that since he plays better, that would help a lot against a bigger, more traditional team.

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Download our Spartans Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices!