Winston, Langford throw ‘coming-out party’ for Spartans
Tulsa, Okla. — There was plenty of praise to go around on Friday night outside of the Michigan State locker room.
The ninth-seeded Spartans had just overcome an early 10-point deficit to bounce back and roll over eight seed Miami, 78-58, and advance to the second round in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament behind big nights from Nick Ward (19 points, seven rebounds) and Miles Bridges (18 points, nine rebounds).
But early in the week, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo identified two X-factors. One was freshman point guard Cassius Winston and the other was freshman guard Joshua Langford.
He nailed it on both as Winston was the catalyst to get the offense rolling in the first half and Langford caught fire early in the second half to extend Michigan State’s lead from 11 to 17 by scoring nine of the first 11 points in the second half.
“I thought Langford was unbelievable,” Izzo said. “In fact, I was mad at him because he had a couple of other shots that he wasn’t ready to shoot. But I thought Josh Langford — I told him before the game when I sent him a text, ‘There’s times like this for a coming-out party,’ and I told Cassius that all week. I thought both had a little coming-out party.”
Langford finished with 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting. But it was that opening to the second half that was truly one of the biggest points of the game.
After a shaky start, Langford scored after grabbing a rebound, hit a pair of mid-range jumpers and then made a 3-pointer as Michigan State’s 38-27 halftime lead grew to 49-32.
“The biggest thing was I wanted to come in and do my job,” Langford said. “Whatever they needed me to do that’s what I wanted to do. My teammates got me open and I went and made plays. That’s what it’s all about. You got to make plays when your time is called, stay focused and locked in and do your job.”
Langford admitted there were some nerves early in the game that led to six turnovers and a 12-point hole. However, it didn’t take long before that turned around.
“I think the biggest things was to make sure I was relaxed,” Langford said. “This is my first tournament so you kind of are a little anxious, kind of rushing a lot of things. But once we all got into the flow of the game I feel like everything was clicking on all cylinders. We started stopping their penetration and everything fell into place outside of that and we got the win.”
Department of youth
Michigan State’s freshmen combined to score 57 of the Spartans’ 78 points, the most in an NCAA Tournament game in team history.
The Spartans have been led by the first-year players all season, though there have been plenty of growing pains. Izzo believes the tough schedule and the late-season push just to get into the tournament have helped.
“We’ve been feeling like it’s one-and-done time for about a month now because we had to win big games at Nebraska and some road games and beat Wisconsin at home,” Izzo said. “This wasn’t a typical Michigan State road to the NCAA Tournament. I told these guys, I’ve had a lot of good teams, I’ve had a lot of great guys. I’ve never, ever — and coaches say this — had a team that has stuck together like these guys.”
It also helped prepare the freshmen to dig out of Friday’s first-half deficit.
“Us having the season we’ve had, we’re battle tested,” said Winston, who scored seven points. “We’ve been through a lot so when we were down 10 or 12 we weren’t fazed. We got our composure and went out and got some stops and made some plays.”
Izzo is now 14-10 in NCAA Tournament games as the lower seed. It’s the most wins in tournament history, three ahead of Rollie Massimino, Jim Boeheim and Lute Olson, who have 11 wins each as the lower-seeded team.
… In 31 all-time NCAA appearances, Michigan State has never lost its first game in back-to-back years (MSU lost to Middle Tennessee in the first round last season). Michigan State is now 24-7 all-time in its first game of the tournament.
… Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, Michigan State has advanced to the second round 20 times. It has a 15-4 record in round-of-32 games since 1985, including 13-1 under Tom Izzo.