East Lansing — As things were getting dicey last weekend at Florida with the home team cutting into Michigan State’s lead and the partisan Gators crowd coming to life, the Spartans needed someone to take over — someone to somehow slow the wave that was building and about to drown the visiting team.
At the end of a long six-game stretch that included just one home game, a road loss to a good team — not a great team — after holding a double-digit second-half lead would have been deflating, to say the least.
Joshua Langford sensed the precarious position his team was in.
“It’s just kind of a feel that you have to have,” Langford said. “You see that maybe we went a long time out scoring, the other team made a run and it’s going back and forth or it’s just time for us to get a bucket. It’s kind of a feel you have to have and my coaches and teammates do a great job of finding me in the right spots when it is time for me to go get a basket for my team. The majority of time I get a chance to convert.”
It’s something Langford did in the second half of the opener against Kansas as Michigan State’s comeback bid against the No. 1 team fell short. And he did it against Texas when the Spartans eliminated a nearly 20-point lead.
So, in the final minutes at Florida Langford stepped to the forefront again. He buried a jumper with just more than six minutes to play after the Gators had trimmed MSU’s lead to three and did so again nearly a minute-and-a-half later after Florida converted a three-point play to pull within two. From there, Kyle Ahrens scored the last seven points and Michigan State came away with a much-needed win on the road.
“He wants the ball,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “He does want the ball and I tell Cassius (Winston) the same thing that he’s got to be more that way. Those two guys got to want the ball at the end of games. I’ve seen that with Josh.”
While Langford says he’s never shied away from taking the big shots, it wasn’t exactly his role during his first two seasons with the Spartans. Part of one of Izzo’s best recruiting classes, Langford came in with Miles Bridges, Nick Ward and Winston, a group that last season was joined by Jaren Jackson Jr.
So, when Michigan State had to get points, the Spartans often turned to Bridges.
However, with Bridges and Jackson now in the NBA, Langford and Winston have been tasked with becoming Michigan State’s go-to guys.
“I’ve always been a player like that,” said Langford, a McDonald’s All-American as a senior in high school. “The first (two) years here that wasn’t really my role, per se. But I think this year I am one of the players that the team looks for in those last seconds or when it’s time for when we need a bucket.
“I’ve always wanted the ball when feel like my team needs at bucket at the most pivotal point, just because I put in so much work and I know what I’m capable of doing and I trust my work. Whenever my team needs me I’m ready to perform.”
Being ready to perform was critical in the victory over Florida. With Winston looking worn out and having a tough game, Ward struggling on the defensive end and guard Matt McQuaid back for the first time after sitting out the previous three games, Langford started to get that sense.
The game was on the line and it was his turn to put the ball in the basket. The key for Langford will be getting that sort of performance for an entire game.
“With Josh there a couple times early in games when maybe the shot selection needs to improve a little bit,” Izzo said as No. 9 Michigan State gets set to host Green Bay on Sunday. “I think he knows it.”
It leads to the one thing Langford harps on continually, often to himself — playing with consistency.
“That’s the biggest word we always say about all the teams I’ve been on here,” Langford said. “That’s something that is hard for every great team to master is being consistent, just because of how we are as humans.
"We’re inconsistent people a lot of times with the things we do, so I think the great teams, championship-level teams understand you have to be consistent.”
Langford has been far more consistent this season than he has been his previous two seasons. He’s scored in double-figures in all 10 games.
But he knows there have been some sluggish first halves and that the turnovers need to be limited. He does, however, believe that consistency is close, and the second-half Langford will start to be the same player for a full 40 minutes.
“If we come out and understand that if we play every game from start to finish like it’s the last three minutes of the game I think we’ll be a better team,” Langford said. “That’s because the last three minutes of the game you’re really locked in and you’re gonna do everything right. You’re gonna take the right shots, not take any bad shots and you’re smart with the plays that you make.
“I think if you take that type of mindset throughout the whole course of a game this team will be a really hard team to stop, and we will get to that point.”
Green Bay at Michigan State
Tip-off: 5 Sunday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
TV/radio: BTN/WJR 760
Records: Green Bay 6-4; No. 9 Michigan State 8-2
Outlook: The Phoenix enter the game on a tough stretch after playing at Creighton on Friday night. … Michigan State is 6-0 all-time against Green Bay. The last meeting was a Spartans victory on 2007 at the Breslin Center. … Green Bay presents a tough matchup in the sense the Phoenix rank 15th in the nation in turnover forced with 18 per game. The Spartans rank tied for 158th in the nation, averaging 13.2 turnovers a game.