Langford's crucial 3 sees out Michigan State's victory over No. 2 Michigan, solidifying bid for NCAA spot
East Lansing — For a brief moment on Sunday afternoon, it looked like Joshua Langford’s Michigan State career was going to have a brutal finish.
With the Spartans leading Michigan by five with just less than two minutes to play, Langford turned the ball over then committed a foul at the other end of the court, leading to a three-point play from Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson, trimming Michigan State’s lead to two with the clock ticking.
Michigan State’s potential huge upset over the No. 2 team in the nation was slipping away.
That’s when Langford found himself open on the wing. Instead of using the clock, the senior fired a 3-pointer that was true, giving the Spartans a five-point lead with 48 seconds to play. The Spartans put it away at the free-throw line from there, beating Michigan, 70-64, at the Breslin Center to exacted a bit of revenge, and in the process, perhaps locking up a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“I was standing right next to him and I was telling him to shoot it before he caught it,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “He was wide open and he just went straight up straight down. It was as picture perfect as you can get. … I was happy for him.”
Izzo wasn’t the only one telling Langford to let it fly.
“The whole bench was like, ‘Shoot it,’” Langford said. “My self-conscious mind was like, ‘Shoot it.’ My instinct was, ‘Shoot it.’ So I shot it. But at the end of the day, that shot, maybe that did help us win the game, but there were so many other things that played a part into us getting this win tonight.”
Langford was right. A team effort it was as Rocket Watts scored 21 points and Aaron Henry added 18, making two huge shots in the final minutes and scoring 13 in the second half. There was Joey Hauser with 11 points — nine in the first half — along with inspired play from Marcus Bingham and Julius Marble defending Dickinson. And Gabe Brown hit four straight free throws in the final 36 seconds to help Michigan State (15-11, 9-11 Big Ten) seal the victory.
“We just had a lot of guys that did a lot,” Izzo said.
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Dickinson battled foul trouble for most of the game and scored 12 for Michigan (19-3, 14-3) while Chaundee Brown scored 13 for the Wolverines. Mike Smith chipped in 11 points while Franz Wagner was limited to 10 points and Isaiah Livers had just nine.
The Big Ten champions were short-handed most of the game though, as guard Eli Brooks injured his left ankle less than five minutes into the game and did not return, spelling frustration for the team that beat Michigan State by 19 three days ago.
“In basketball, you have to be ready to play from start to finish versus a team that you won convincingly in your building and now you play in their building,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “A team like that who one of their things they pride themselves on is physicality. We weren't the aggressor, they were.”
Michigan State used a 13-4 run to close the first half to take a 30-26 lead to the locker room. Watts had 11 in the first half while Hauser scored nine. Michigan got seven points each from Livers and Smith, but Dickinson was limited to three points and picked up two fouls while Wagner was just 1-for-5 in the opening 20 minutes.
The teams traded buckets for the first four minutes of the second half before a Henry 3-pointer started to swing things in Michigan State’s favor as the Spartans went on a 9-2 run to take a 47-38 lead with 11:59 to play. The Spartans extended the lead to 55-44 with 5:58 to play after a free throw from Bingham, but Michigan scored the next five points to pull within six with 4:40 to play. The Spartans pushed the lead back to 59-51, but a Wagner 3 and a bucket from Dickinson got the Wolverines within 61-56 with 1:51 left in the game.
Michigan pulled within two inside a minute after a three-point play from Dickinson, but Langford’s 3-pointer with 48 seconds to play to give the Spartans a 64-59 lead. Brown then hit a pair of free throws before a Wanger three cut it to 66-62. Brown added two more free throws and Henry got two of his own to put the game away for Michigan State.
“To be able to end the season, our regular conference play like this, there’s not much more you could ask for,” Langford said. “Our work, it's not finished, but we do want to now cherish this win, because this is a memory that, like coach said, we will remember forever.”