Ward goes down, Tillman steps up

By Trent Balley

EAST LANSING, Mich.– Over 14,000 Michigan State fans held their breath as Nick Ward hit the hardwood. Three forceful fist pounds from the star junior forward were heard against the floor, as all noise in the Breslin Center was silenced. Ward put no weight on his right leg as he hopped straight to the locker room to the sound of supportive cheers from the Breslin crowd.

In a highly competitive first half, Ward had put up four points and three rebounds in five minutes. It was clear that the Spartans were looking for him to take advantage of his size advantage down low against the Warhawks of Louisiana Monroe. With one of his starters’ status now up in the air, MSU coach Tom Izzo needed one of his guys to step up… and fast.

Xavier Tillman answered the bell in a big way.

The sophomore big man from Grand Rapids, Mich. saw 18 minutes of court time, finishing the contest with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Both marks were career-highs for him. Tillman made 4-of-5 field goals and 3-of-5 free throws on his career night, and an 80-59 win for the Spartans.

“Coach really challenged me,” Tillman said after the game. “He was saying that I just have to be more of an inside presence, and help us out with inside scoring. Not even just scoring, but being a facilitator throughout the paint.”

To go along with the double-double, Tillman further stuffed the stat sheet with two assists, two steals and a block. Michigan State junior guard Josh Langford had high praise for his teammate’s performance, and furthermore his season thus far.

“That was big on X’s part,” Langford said. “X is somebody who’s always going to do the little things. He’s always going to take care of a lot of the small things that people don’t focus on. Doing what he did tonight, I’m not surprised at all.”

Much to the relief of the Spartans’ ears, Ward’s injury has been deemed not serious. An MSU spokesman explained that he is day-to-day, certainly a welcome relief for Izzo and the Spartans.

“It’s swollen; it’s a low ankle sprain, not a high ankle sprain,” Izzo revealed in his postgame press conference. “I know it’s not severe.”

The win on Wednesday night elevated the Spartans to 2-1 on the season. They’ll host Tennessee Tech Sunday night, looking to add onto a two-game winning streak.