Ward scores 25 in Michigan State’s 77-65 win over Oakland

Oakland's Sherron Dorsey-Walker, right, drives against Michigan State's Alvin Ellis III during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 77-65. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

By LARRY LAGE

AP Sports Writer

EAST LANSING– Nick Ward made the most of his first opportunity to start.

The freshman forward scored a season-high 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds, helping Michigan State pull away to beat Oakland 77-65 on Wednesday night.

“I had a different type of energy,” Ward said.

Thanks to shooting 200 free throws a day, Ward had a different result at the line. After entering the game as a 53 percent shooter at the line, he was 11 of 17 against Oakland.

“He has lived on the free throw line,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Even his misses looked good.”

The Spartans (8-5) closed their non-conference season with a desperately needed win, coming off a loss to Northeastern.

“I don’t feel very good about where we are, but I wouldn’t get too nervous out there because this team is getting better,” Izzo said.

The Golden Grizzlies (9-3) lost to Northeastern at home on Tuesday night, giving them a tough turnaround.

“We play a lot of guys anyways,” Oakland’s Jalen Hayes said. “So that didn’t affect us.”

Foul trouble, though, did hurt the Grizzlies’ chances of beating Michigan State for the first time in 15 matchups.

Michigan State took control of the sloppy, turnover- and foul-filled game with an 11-2 run midway through the second half. Ward later made a low-post shot off his own miss, giving the Spartans a 68-55 lead with 4:46 left.

The Spartans didn’t have a player other than Ward score in double figures until late in the game.