Michigan State forward Nick Ward had surgery on Sunday night to repair a hairline fracture in his left hand, Spartans coach Tom Izzo confirmed Monday.
Izzo initially believed Ward “might have dislocated a finger or something” in his postgame remarks Sunday, but a closer examination by medical staff revealed that the junior big man sustained a hairline fracture of his left hand. The injury comes as Michigan State sits tied with Michigan in first place in the Big Ten with five games left on the schedule.
In terms of a recovery timetable, Izzo said he’s heard of players with similar injuries being out from anywhere between three and five weeks. The Spartans’ regular season ends exactly three weeks from Ward’s injury.
Nick Ward is the second-leading scorer, third-leading rebounder and third-leading shot-blocker for the 21-5 Spartans. He has started 25 of 26 games for the Spartans this season.
Izzo said Ward was in good spirits when he met with Ward and his family Sunday night prior to the procedure.
Izzo on Nick Ward: "I think Nick psychologically … he was doing OK. I think he felt better that they think there's a chance he can come back." Izzo met with Ward and parents before surgery, telling him it is a chance to rest. "It's not pretty, it's not good for anybody."
— Chris Solari (@chrissolari) February 18, 2019
To make up for Nick Ward’s 23 minutes per game, Izzo said he’ll be reaching deeper down the bench. Sophomore Xavier Tillman will assume Ward’s spot in the starting lineup. Tillman got his first career start Feb. 5 at Illinois — when Izzo benched Ward to motivate the junior — and posted 16 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes. Izzo mentioned freshman Thomas Kithier, who played 10 minutes on Sunday when Ward sat the second half, as a player who will likely see a larger role. He also mentioned freshman Marcus Bingham and walk-on Braden Burke as players who could see time in Ward’s absence.
Ward’s setback is the latest in a string of injuries that have plagued the Spartans since late November. He’s the second Spartan starter to suffer a long-term injury, with junior shooting guard Joshua Langford done for the year after hurting his foot in late December. Matt McQuaid and Kyle Ahrens were also unavailable at different points of the year.
“With three weeks left, at least we’re in the position we wanted to be in. And that’s the position to compete for a championship,” Izzo said during his Monday press conference. “I hope everybody here feels bad for Nick, but I don’t want anybody to feel bad for us.”
“That’s just the nature of the beast, the way it goes. I’m not gonna tell you next man up and this and that. I’m gonna tell you we’re gonna have to adjust as a team.”
“… so the margin has shrunk for the errors. We don’t have any. But our expectations for victory hasn’t changed one iota.”