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Michigan State and Minnesota face off again, but this time, it's the second round of the NCAA tournament. Here is what is different, March 22, 2019.
Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press

DES MOINES, Iowa – Nick Ward attacked the glass and cast a glare at the defense.

He posted strong and scored at will in attack. He even moved the ball and hit him with a certain distance.

It was early February against Minnesota, before a fracture forced him to perform surgery, forced him to miss five matches and weakened in the left hand of the United States. Michigan State striker, with whom he shoots.

Today, Tom Izzo expects the juniors to be even more competitive when the two-headed Spartans (29-6) face the 10th seeded Gophers (22-13) on Saturday at second round of the NCAA tournament with a trip to Sweet 16 on the line.

"I think Nick is about to come back," Izzo said on Friday. "I think it's going to be an important part of this game for us."

Michigan State striker Nick Ward talks with reporters about their second-round NCAA game against Minnesota on Friday, March 22, 2019, at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, New York. l & # 39; Iowa. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

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"I'm very excited," Ward said. "I'm just starting to feel like me. I can not wait to get back to the field and feel normal again.

Ward hopes to return to the form he had shown in his February 9th game against the Gophers, a 79-55 victory over Magic Johnson and the MSU National Championship team in 1979. He scored 22 points and captured nine rebounds to answer a challenge launched by Izzo after a series of three consecutive defeats at the Spartans.

Ward also teamed up with Xavier Tillman to keep Minnesota's Jordan Murphy five points (one in four) and six rebounds. Jordan Oturu, a freshman weighing 6-10 pounds and 225 pounds, had 12 points and seven boards that day, but only managed five of his 12 shots.

"It will be a physical battle for the big ones. … When Nick Murphy and I will be supervised by Nick Murphy and Oturu, we will do our best to be as physical as possible and take care of them, "said Tillman. "It's definitely a better match. Murphy is busy, but he will not do a lot of dribbling. He'll be more direct with that, so it'll be better for Nick. By the way, Murphy is a strong man and Nick is good at mistakes. So, hopefully, he will be able to draw some important mistakes. "

Eight days after that performance, Ward broke his hand in a win over Ohio State. At that time, he averaged 15.1 points and 6.7 rebounds, a number that earned him a third-place finish in the All-Big Ten standings. On March 15, he returned to the Big Ten Tournament with a splint made for him by coaches and students at the MSU College of Engineering.

Since then, however, Ward has had difficulty with his stamina and strength of his hand – as well as with adverse confrontations with smaller and faster players. He has averaged only 5.5 points and 2.8 rebounds in 10.8 minutes over the last four games of MSU. Ward shot 43.7% of the field and 80% of the line, but said that playing with the wrapped hand had affected his touch and his ability to handle passes and rebounds.

"Nick has been an important factor with our greats," said Izzo. "It's a process and not his fault for sure. I think he plays better, it would help us a lot against a bigger and more traditional team. "

Contact Chris Solari: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Download our Spartans Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices!