MSU's Langford to inherit larger role with Bridges out

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State understood it was going to be tested through the first eight games this season, playing one of the toughest schedules in the country while traveling thousands of miles.

Spartan freshman Joshua Langford

It fully expected December would be one where it could take time to regroup and make a significant step forward with seven of eight games at home.

The news freshman forward Miles Bridges will be out at least two weeks with an ankle injury, however, has thrown a bit of a wrench into those plans as Michigan State prepares to host Oral Roberts Saturday.

“It’s been one of those years,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We have a couple of weeks to get better and practice a little bit more and now we’re gonna have to get other guys better, which is gonna be OK.

“We’re really homing in on three things ... We’ve outrebounded a few teams but we’re not rebounding real well. Our turnovers have been atrocious and somewhat expected. ... Then free-throw shooting. I thought we’d be a really good free-throw shooting team and I still think they will be if we ever get to the line.”

It’s a long list the Spartans (4-4) are working on, and it would have helped to have Bridges in the mix, not to mention Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter, two front-court players who could both miss the entire season. Their absence, however, opens the door for others to make a significant jump.

Sore ankle to keep MSU's Bridges out at least 2 weeks

One of those players could be freshman guard Joshua Langford.

He was hampered early in the season by a hamstring injury and has been slow to get back into a playing rhythm, but declared himself 100 percent healthy and ready to take on a significant role.

“It tough with him being the third person to go down,” Langford said of Bridges, who is averaging 16.6 points. “I went through the same thing and those guys picked me up when I was hurt, so I’ll do the same for him and pick up the intensity for him.

“Every game, every practice I feel more comfortable with movements and stuff like that. The defensive stuff I feel better as well. I feel more comfortable every day and this is an opportunity for everybody to step up, but I see it as an opportunity for me to do what I can do.”

While Langford could see a bigger role, he can hardly fill Bridges’ shoes on his own. Michigan State will need more from just about every player in the rotation, and the result was an intense practice Thursday, two days after the loss at Duke and two days before getting back on the floor against Oral Roberts.

It was more of a typical practice, but one Izzo has avoided this season because of the injuries. But he decided holding back wasn’t working.

“We just talked to the team and everybody decided, ‘Let’s throw caution to the wind, get up and get after it,’” Izzo said. “This has been a very un-Michigan State practice season, both in the amount of time and mostly how we’ve gone at it. But when it’s young guys that got to get better and not veterans, they don’t know what it takes to win. So that’s why we’re getting back after it.”

If it proves to be the right formula, Michigan State could be hitting its stride just as Bridges returns and the Big Ten season is ready to begin.

“These are big games,” freshman guard Cassius Winston said. “We didn’t start the season how we wanted to. We had a chance to win a lot of these games, games that could have changed our season in a major way. But these games are important to get us rolling on the season.”

Oral Roberts at Michigan State

Tip-off: 4:30 Saturday, Breslin Center, East Lansing

TV/radio: BTN/WJR

Records: Oral Roberts 1-6, Michigan State 4-4

Outlook: Oral Roberts is coming off a loss at Oakland on Thursday, the first of a three-game road stretch that includes Michigan State and Oklahoma (Wednesday). ... This is the first meeting between the teams. ... Oral Roberts’ lone victory was over Division II Rogers State.