BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Joshua Langford put his arm around Tom Izzo as they walked back into the Assembly Hall locker room Saturday afternoon.
Just two point guards, two coaches, basking in the glow of Michigan State basketball’s 78-71 comeback win at Indiana.
You read that right. On both accounts.
Let’s start with Langford running the Spartans’ offense for long stretches of their first-half rally, shaking off his four early turnovers to play the final 29:19 without one. And the fifth-year senior spent every bit of that time on the court, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the second half while grabbing six rebounds and handing out five assists. All that while calming MSU’s younger players when the Spartans fell behind by 13 midway through in the first half and 10 early in the second.
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With Foster Loyer (left shoulder) out, Langford and Aaron Henry are helping lift the burden of running the point from freshman A.J. Hoggard and sophomore Rocket Watts. Langford, a 6-foot-5 natural shooting guard, hadn’t played point since a game against Louisville in December 2018 in which Cassius Winston fouled out, Matt McQuaid sat with an injury and Loyer struggled.
“Everybody’s just trying to win,” said Langford, whose 36 minutes was his most this season. “Obviously, that’s not something that I’ve played in the past here. But at the end of the day, I’m just trying to be here to help my teammates win. … The saying that coach had throughout the whole pregame and even before today was the word ‘connected.’ And that’s what we want it to be. And I feel like that’s what we did.”
Which leads into the second part.
Izzo cherishes the ideal of what he calls a “player-coached team,” on in which veterans put the onus on themselves to fix what is going wrong. Langford, a graduate student and the Spartans’ most senior player after missing a season and a half with foot problems, has stepped into that role. Izzo said he even has his third-year captain calling some plays during huddles.
“I don’t think we win the game at all without Josh Langford and all the little things he did,” Izzo said. “The two things we went into the game with were little things matter and let’s stay more connected. And I thought we did a good job of both of them.”
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Izzo continued to shake up his rotation at center, with Julius Marble II getting his first career start. But the sophomore picked up two fouls less than four minutes into the first half ,and two more in a 10-second span less than 90 seconds into the second.
Freshman Mady Sissoko came off the bench first, followed by junior Marcus Bingham Jr. Each, like Marble, picked up a quick foul while trying to stop Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, who finished with 34 points and nine rebounds.
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Thomas Kithier, the starter at the beginning of the season, entered last. And the much-maligned junior made the biggest impression, as part of MSU’s first-half comeback, by holding Jackson-Davis scoreless for nearly four minutes after checking in with 7:41 left before the half. The Spartans cut their deficit from 11 to two in that stretch.
Jackson-Davis’ only points against Kithier in his 10 minutes came when the 6-8 MSU forward fouled Indiana’s star for a three-point play with 7:36 to play.
“Thomas is our best guy at forcing guys out,” Izzo said of Kithier, who had two points, two rebounds and an assist from the paint on Gabe Brown’s second-half 3-pointer that put the Spartans up 57-52. “Marky’s lack of strength hurt. Julius, he’s got the strength but maybe not the experience. And I think he found out that starting, he got tired quickly, like Marky did last year. But I thought in general, Thomas Kithier did a great job. … He did a decent job on Trace, and Trace is a load, man.”
Bingham provided the most production of the four, with eight points and five rebounds in 14 minutes. Sissoko grabbed four boards in 11 minutes, while Marble contributed a three-point play to open MSU’s second half before more foul trouble.
Loyer impresses Izzo
Speaking of player-coaches, Izzo gushed over Loyer’s acumen and abilities while on the sideline.
“I thought Foster Loyer on the bench did a phenomenal job,” Izzo said. “That kid, I gotta sit him right next to me.”
The junior captain from Clarkston did not play for the first time this season. Trainers felt the 6-foot point guard needed to rest his shoulder, which he initially injured Feb. 6 against Nebraska before playing through two games while it bothered him.
Contact Chris Solari: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball’s Joshua Langford a point guard, play-caller