Joshua Langford, Joey Hauser knock off the rust quickly for Michigan State
Joshua Langford hadn’t played in a game in almost two years.
For Joey Hauser, it’s been about a year-and-a-half.
To say both were excited to be back on the court Wednesday when No. 13 Michigan State opened the season with an 83-67 victory over Eastern Michigan would be an understatement.
“Opening night,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said to open his postgame press conference. “Exciting, especially for Josh and Joey, who haven't played in a couple years and I think that was a little bit of a tribute to the nine turnovers between them.”
OK, so it took a minute for each to find a bit of a rhythm, but who can blame them?
Hauser, who sat out all of last season following his transfer from Marquette, turned the ball over three straight possessions at one point in the first half and twice misfired on passes that went in Izzo’s general direction on the bench. Langford, who has had two surgeries on his foot since he last played in December 2018, misfired on his first three shots.
But it didn’t take long before both started to look like themselves. After Langford missed his first three, he buried a 3-pointer from the wing to give Michigan State a 17-10 lead and finished the game with 10 points. And Hauser, though he didn’t get as many looks as he might against a man-to-man defense – Eastern Michigan plays primarily a 2-3 zone – he came alive to score 15 points and grab nine rebounds, just missing on a double-double.
“Joey went through that three-minute stretch where he kind of let things get to him, but that's gonna happen to Josh and Joey for a little bit,” Izzo said. “But I love the way Joey bounced back in the second half. He probably had an average game, and he was one rebound away from having a double-double, so he and Josh, the turnovers will get better.
“Joey was sucking up to the head coach. He threw me two passes on the bench, and that's not going to get him more playing time, but he thinks it is so I had a little chit chat with him. But in all fairness and honesty, I was pleased by how he and Josh played considering the time off they've had.”
Langford’s journey has been well-documented, from the original injury that led to surgery and cut his junior season short after just 13 games to the second surgery required just as last season was set to begin. Through it all, Langford never left the program, and after first saying he was done playing at the college level, decided to return for one more season with the Spartans.
Several weeks into preseason practice, it was clear Langford was on the right track, leading up to getting the starting nod on Wednesday.
“I’m just grateful to be to be back out there,” Langford said. “It definitely was different just because the last time I played it wasn't like this. And then also I haven't played in almost two years, so it was definitely different getting back out there and a lot of emotions within. But ultimately, I'm just glad we got the win and I got a game under my belt and I can just keep moving forward.”
Langford finished the game 3-for-8 shooting with a pair of rebounds and an assist with four turnovers, but nearly as important was the fact he played 21 minutes.
“I think as the game kept progressing, I just got more and more into a rhythm,” Langford said, “and as I get more practices under my belt, I definitely will pick up that rhythm.”
Hauser’s rhythm took some time to appear, as well. While he didn’t have an injury to overcome, a season spent running with the scout team can create some rust.
“It was different being back on the court and it's been a long time,” Hauser said. “As you can see, I was kind of struggling to get in the flow of the game, struggling to kind of find myself there. I think I was rushing a little bit too much, but I'm thankful for my teammates, they really picked me up, my coaches stayed on me about just sticking to what I do best, and I'm really thankful just for everyone in this program that has really helped me to make sure I'm keeping my head high and not talking about a bad play or something like that.”
The Spartans (1-0) aren’t beating themselves up too much about the early mistakes. After all, in a typical season they would have had a couple exhibitions under their belt.
But headed into Saturday’s home game with Notre Dame, Michigan State knows there’s no free passes.
“We want to be patient with ourselves, but we don't want to make the excuse that we haven't had the same ‘normal season’ that we always have,” Langford said. “Because at the end of the day, everybody's going through the same thing. You kind of want to give yourself grace, but at the same time, continue to put the pedal to the metal and just keep pushing forward.”