If the Joshua Langford that scored a career-high 19 points on Sunday in a 93-71 victory over Stony Brook shows up on a consistent basis, then Michigan State could be well on its way to reaching its lofty goals this season.
That’s not to put the success of an entire program on one player, and for the fourth-ranked Spartans, there’s plenty of talent to go around. But the sophomore guard that battled a bad hamstring all of last season and came into this one with plenty of expectations, the ease with which he played on Sunday was a stark contrast to the first two games of the season against North Florida and Duke.
Against Stony Brook, Langford played with confidence at both ends of the floor.
“Josh Langford was the best player on the court as far as the guy that did things on both ends,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Sunday. “That’s the Josh Langford I think there is. Some of it is him and some of it is us. We have to do a better job. I was really happy for him because he let the game come to him. He didn’t force things. He let it come to him.
“He looked so comfortable. I thought it was the first day that he looked really comfortable on both ends of the court.”
Langford finished 8-for-13 shooting with five assists and three rebounds. He was confident, much more so than a player that was a combined 8-for-18 in the first two games, including 1-for-6 from 3-point range.
And as Michigan State (2-1) gets set to take on DePaul (1-2) at 11:30 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the PK80 Invitational, Langford feels his play against Stony Brook can be a springboard.
“I just want to go out and give my teammates a better chance to win the game,” Langford said. “Sometimes that ends up me scoring, sometimes it’s getting 10-plus rebounds, whatever my teammates need from me. That’s what I want to go out there and do. Hopefully this game will get me going offensively.”
That offense was always going to be necessary for the Spartans, but it could become even more vital of sophomore Miles Bridges misses any time because of the ankle sprain he suffered on Sunday. Bridges’ status is still up in the air, but getting more from Langford would help.
To do that, Langford will need to build off his performance from Sunday and put the Duke game in the past when he was rushing shots and playing without confidence.
“The game is just starting to slow down more,” Langford said. “With the game we had recently against Duke, you kind of just want to hurry up and get back on the court and just try to get some redemption. So, that’s what I wanted to do. I just wanted to go out there and just play as hard as I can and do my job.”
His job is to score, that’s certain. But, as Izzo pointed out, Langford needs to be solid defensively, too, while hitting the glass and running the floor.
Langford pushed the pace against Stony Brook, something he did at times in the first two games but not nearly as much as he could have.
“I was being consistent (against Stony Brook),” Langford said. “The past few games I wasn’t as consistent. I’d get a few buckets then stop running. (Sunday) night I made sure I was running. There were still some plays I didn’t get out on the break and run. But some teams don’t want to get back and those turn into easy buckets, not only for me but it opens up area for the point guards and the bigs.”
In other words, it makes Michigan State more of a complete team, and it’s something Langford hopes to bring far more often.
“The biggest thing for me is always seize the moment and seize the opportunity,” Langford said. “Play every game, every possession like it’s my last and just do my job to the best of my ability.”
Thursday’s first round
■ Portland vs. North Carolina, 2:30, ESPN
■ Arkansas vs. Oklahoma, 5, ESPN2
■ Connecticut vs. Oregon, 9, ESPNU
■ Michigan State vs. DePaul, 11:30, ESPN
■ Portland State vs. Duke, 4:30, ESPN
■ Butler vs. Texas, 7, ESPN2
■ Florida vs. Stanford, 10, ESPN2
■ Ohio State vs. Gonzaga, midnight, ESPN