EAST LANSING – In many ways, Michigan State’s season was on the brink of the second half on Saturday night.
The Spartans had lost four straight games and needed an almost miraculous season turnaround to get to the NCAA tournament.
A loss to a last-place team like Nebraska would have pretty much ended that effort before it started, and the Cornhuskers threatened to make that happen when they got down to under-seven. points.
So while the end result was far from pretty, the Spartans and the players weren’t complaining much afterwards. a well-deserved victory 66-56.
“We can breathe deeply,” said Spartans goaltender Joshua Langford.
This sense of relief was widespread on the part of Spartans coach Tom Izzo and players afterwards.
The result marked a performance step backwards, compared to a near loss for an Iowa top 10 team on Thursday. The Spartans were worse offensively and sloppier with the ball compared to that outing.
But this time around, the outcome was different, partly because of the lower level of competition, but also because the State of Michigan made winning games to seal a victory.
Izzo is hoping this team shows they can perform when the heat is turned up a bit.
“Now there’s a little bit of pressure on us and I kinda like that,” Izzo said. “I think this team must have a little pressure on them. Maybe I need to put some pressure on myself.
The Spartans recorded 22 turnovers, a season-high in Saturday’s win, 39 percent shooting from the field and 6 for 23 over a 3-point range. For the second game in a row, they recorded an excessive number of fouls, with a total of 24.
Izzo blamed this performance in part on what he called a “dead” locker room before the game, something he said bothered him.
“I didn’t think we were ready to play today,” Izzo said.
Among the positives, however, was Langford, who recorded a season-high 18 points on a 7 for 12 shot and went from 4 for 6 from a distance of 3 points.
Langford had returned to training after an absence from COVID-19 just days before the Spartans embarked on their three-game, six-day road trip on January 28. Langford shot 10 to 39 on that trip, with the latest of those misfires. coming on a short pull-up that would have tied the game with 30 seconds left against Iowa.
Afterwards, Izzo lamented that he played at Langford for too many minutes too soon after returning from isolation. Langford had two days off after that game – the team had a day off on Wednesday and he missed the team’s practice the next day – and looked much better on his return.
The challenge now will be to continue to manage Langford’s workload to get more games like Thursday’s from him.
“We have guys who just need to train more. Josh isn’t one of them, ”Izzo said. “So I don’t know what I’m going to do with him.
As Langford jumped, however, several other players declined. Joey Hauser’s season hit a low point when he fouled in 13 minutes without scoring.
Marquette’s transfer came from back-to-back double-digit games, but has seen a familiar problem again this season.
“He’s struggling all the time, and part of it is his fault,” Izzo said. “He goes in and out all the time. He can’t play like he played and it looks like he’s just catching fouls.
Rocket Watts also recorded five turnovers, although Izzo thought he played well before that.
Langford was there to help several Spartans players who struggled through tough games, while Izzo praised the leadership of his only senior.
Langford said his message is for the players to drop their 2-7 start in the Big Ten and focus on what lies ahead.
“You have to put the past in the past, step out of the past, live in the day and prepare for tomorrow,” Langford said. “If you are so focused on what happened in the past, you won’t be able to be the best you can be in the present.
“We can’t change the past, we can only learn from it, and so the best thing we wanted to do was keep moving forward and keep learning from it, and not be trapped and swallowed up. by what happened in the past. . “