By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Craig Sword is playing hurt, but he’s also playing the best he has all season.
One week ago, the freshman guard suffered a sprained left ankle – not to mention a bout of cramps – but kept playing in a 56-54 win over South Carolina. He scored a career-high 18 points and made some big plays in the final minute of the game.
Three days later, Sword was a game-day decision against Georgia. He played, and he scored 16 points in a 72-61 win.
Those were the two best games of his young career.
“We had no indication of how he would be able to play or even if he would be able to play due to the ankle,” head coach Rick Ray said of the Georgia game. “I just think it’s a phenomenal thing for Craig to come in and fight like that and play for our team. Not just play, but play well.”
Sword hadn’t even practiced the previous two days, and he’s been extremely limited this week. He has to get around with a walking boot on his left leg.
Sword is expected to play tonight when MSU (7-7, 2-0 SEC) hosts Alabama (9-6, 1-1) in an 8:00 tipoff on CSS. Just like against Georgia, he’ll get the ankle heavily taped and will wear a brace.
MSU needs Sword to stay healthy and to keep producing, because this team is down to seven healthy scholarship players. Despite the low numbers, something has clicked in State’s three-game winning streak.
For Sword, that something is a more patient approach to the game.
“Now I’m really starting to let the game come to me,” he said. “Now we’ve got Jalen (Steele) back, it may open my game up a little bit more.”
Steele has played four games since returning from a wrist injury. He scored 21 at Georgia and is the team’s best shooter, and so that naturally makes Sword’s job easier.
Sword’s biggest strength is his quickness, which allows him to drive past defenders. But it’s also a weakness, because Sword often gets going too fast and commits turnovers.
He’s turned it over a team-high 58 times, an average of 4.1 per game.
“The thing that Craig has to become better at is seeing that secondary defender,” Ray said, “because he has that burst and athletic ability to create and get by people, but sometimes he struggles with what to do once he gets into the paint with the secondary defenders.”
Sword has been working on it. After committing a season-high seven turnovers against South Carolina, he had three against Georgia.
“I’ve got to work on slowing down,” Sword said. “He’s telling me to jump stop all the time. So I still work on that.”
It’s another part of Sword’s development. Injury or no, he’ll keep plugging away at it.