X-factor: Xavier Tillman shining in starting role

Posted at 5:43 PM, Mar 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-29 17:43:45-04

WASHINGTON — Michigan State sophomore Xavier Tillman was presented an opportunity in February when Nick Ward went down with an injury: a chance to start.

"I think I've been taking it head on." the Grand Rapids native said.  "Especially statistically-wise but us winning games has shown that I've been taking the role pretty well."

Since joining the stating lineup, Tillman has averaged 13.5 points and 8 rebounds over the last 10 games.

"I've just tried to be as consistent as possible," Tillman said. "Being an offensive guy finishing inside, free throws making sure I've made those and then defensively being someone who can help out my teammates as well as get a stop on my own man."

His teammates are not surprised with the way he has handle his new role.

"I just think he was ready for the opportunity he got," senior forward Kenny Goins said. "When the opportunity arose he just stepped in and people asked a little more of him and he has answered the bell every single time."

Ward has since returned for the last five games and head coach Tom Izzo says he is very close to being 100 percent again.

"Nick wanted to come back and be everything all at once," Izzo stated. "Usually it takes whatever time your off, a month your off it takes at least half that time to get back and we are right in to that area."

With Ward returning to form, it adds much needed depth for the Spartans in the frontcourt.

As for Tillman, he has another challenge in the East regional semifinal against LSU big man Naz Reid.

"Xavier's going to have his hands full," Izzo said. "Because he (Reid) can shoot the three, he can take it to the hole, he can dunk on you, he can jump over you and get an offensive rebound."

Michigan State and LSU tip at 7:09 p.m. at Capital One arena with an Elite Eight berth on the line.