No. 10 Michigan State trying to replace Ward as Rutgers visits
It hasn't really been 100 years since the last time Michigan State and Rutgers played each other -- it just seems that way to Tom Izzo.
The Spartans coach led his team to a win at Rutgers back on Nov. 30 to open Big Ten play, which accounts for the long gap between meetings. But the changes No. 10 Michigan State has endured since that time makes it seem even longer.
In late January, Michigan State lost guard Joshua Langford for the season due to a left foot injury. On Sunday night in a win over Ohio State, junior center Nick Ward suffered a hairline fracture in his left shooting hand, requiring surgery and an indefinite absence.
"Nick had 20, Josh Langford had 14," Izzo said of the first game against Rutgers. "That's 34 points we're gonna make up for. But at the same time, remember that Matt McQuaid didn't play in that game."
McQuaid is back, of course, but this will be the Spartans' first chance to see what life is like without Ward, who is averaging 15.1 points and 6.7 rebounds a game.
His absence puts even more pressure on McQuaid and junior guard Cassius Winston, while sophomore big man Xavier Tillman moves into the starting lineup for Michigan State (21-5, 12-3 Big Ten). He'll be spelled by freshman Thomas Kithier, who has played sporadically this season but has fared well when called on. Freshman forward Marcus Bingham Jr. could also see more playing time, as well as freshman wing Gabe Brown.
"I think all of our guys this morning understood that I don't need Cassius to go from 19 to 28 points, I need Cassius to go from 19 to 21 maybe," Izzo said. "I need another guy to go from 10 to 12, I need another guy to lock down a little better and hold their opponent that's averaging 15 to maybe 13. There's a lot of ways you can come up with the 15-point differential, and the rebounding differential.
"Is it gonna be easy? No, things haven't been easy around here. We're just gonna keep the same path, only maybe learn from the past and try to figure out."
Rutgers (12-13, 5-10) is looking for its own sort of bounce-back following a crushing last-second defeat at home to Iowa, which got a banked 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer by freshman Joe Weiskamp to erase Geo Baker's go-ahead three just seconds earlier.
Rediscovering the positive vibes will be a challenge for the Scarlet Knights, who have won just one of the last five games after a three-game winning streak.
"I love the enthusiasm around our program," Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. "Our guys keep getting better. There are some exciting opportunities coming up with some huge games in front of us.
"We're on to the next challenge. Michigan State is the best team in the league. They've got really good players and a Hall of Fame coach. They'll be ready and well coached. They play really good at home. It's unfortunate for them that they have some injuries, but they have some very talented players ready to step in off the bench as well."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 19, 2019