By Will Burchfield
Amid all of Michigan State’s first-half mistakes versus Michigan on Tuesday night, perhaps the most damaging was Nick Ward’s technical foul for tripping Michigan’s Moe Wagner.
The offense landed Ward on the bench for the final 3:49 of the first half, during which time the Wolverines extended their lead from 16 points to 26. By the time the freshman center returned to the floor at the start of the second half, the game was all but out of reach.
Michigan went on to win 86-57.
Izzo hadn’t yet seen a replay of Ward’s foul when he spoke to reporters after the game, but said he wouldn’t stand for it if it was clearly intentional.
“If he tripped him, it’s the most inexcusable thing there was. I’m not dealing with that, so he’s going to hear about it,” Izzo said.
Ward’s foul naturally drew comparisons to Duke’s Grayson Allen, who has been called for tripping on three occasions this season. The trend became so pronounced in December that Duke reprimanded its senior guard with a one-game suspension and stripped him of his captaincy.
Ward denied his trip was intentional, telling the Associated Press after the game, “I really don’t think I did (it) on purpose. But (the officials) thought I did.”
Judge for yourself.
While holding Ward accountable, Izzo pointed out that Wagner, a sophomore, isn’t always the cleanest player himself.
“Wagner can be a pain in the butt, too. Let’s not kid each other here about what goes on – it went on at our place, too. But the experienced guy got the inexperienced guy. Inexcusable (to be) in any of that,” Izzo said.
Wagner, for his part, downplayed the whole incident, chalking it up to a positional battle down low.
“He’s the five for Michigan State and I’m the five for Michigan, so obviously we’re going at each other,” Wagner said. “That’s just all it is, I think. All this little stuff, that doesn’t really matter to me. I just care about the win.”
Asked afterward about Wagner’s chippy style of play, Michigan coach John Beilein said, “I love it.”
“He plays with everything that he’s got,” Beilein added. “We don’t want to rob him of that, we need that very, very badly…It’s what’s going to make him a great player. I’d rather have a guy with that edge, a guy with that type of passion and have to dial him back than have to grow the other guys and say you’re not going to win without enthusiasm.”
Michigan outscored Michigan State 55-29 in the first half, including 32-12 when Ward wasn’t on the floor. The freshman finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, most of which came in the second half.