No.17 Michigan State (5-1) overcame “the worst start in the history of basketball” as head coach Tom Izzo called it, and roared back to defeat Texas (5-1), 78-68 to win the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. This victory came on the strength of their indomitable junior backcourt and stifling second-half defense.
Junior guards Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston dominated the second half, with Langford scoring 22 of his 29 after the break, and Winston directing traffic to the tune of 20 points and 10 assists. Langford and Winston scored 35 of MSU’s 42 second-half points. Winston was named the tournament MVP for his impressive performance in both games.
Both teams started in the opposite direction of Thursday's games. Texas, who trailed 17-4 against No. 7 North Carolina before coming back to win 92-89, blitzed the same Spartans who dominated No. 17 UCLA in the first half the previous night.
Texas’ pressure was relentless, forcing 10 turnovers in the first 8 minutes of the game, en route to a 25-6 lead with 11:21 remaining in the first half.
The Spartans closed the half on a 20-10 run, cutting the deficit to just eight, 44-36. MSU only turned it over once in the last twelve minutes of the half after the disastrous beginning.
Langford scored 13 in a burst early in the second half, giving the Spartans their first lead of the game at 50-49. He hit two from deep, drove to the basket for a bucket, and then knocked down another, all in the first five minutes of the half. His fadeaway jumper from the foul line with 13:36 left gave the Spartans a lead they would not relinquish.
Even considering the massive point differential in the second half, a 42-24 edge, the Spartans could not shake the turnover bug. They actually finished with more turnovers, 13, in the second half, than the 11 they committed in the first.
The defense after the break held Texas to 7-32 shooting after the Longhorns shot 46.9 percent in the first half.
Senior forward Dylan Osetkowski led the Longhorns with 11 first-half points, including an important three to break up the Spartan push to close the half. Texas made five of their first ten threes, but only hit two of their next seven, part of the reason they weren’t able to fully extend their dominance early.
Freshman guard Aaron Henry helped the Spartans back into the game with his fearlessness. Henry, who played sparingly in the previous two games, was the first freshman off the bench for the Spartans Friday afternoon and brought some energy to a team that appeared to be dead in the water. He had two nice finishes on drives, including a reverse layup, before knocking down a three with his left-handed stroke after a possession with multiple skip passes. His play helped keep MSU afloat before they made their run in the closing stages of the first half.
Senior guard Kerwin Roach led the Longhorns with 15, but was unable to replicate the 32-point explosion from the night before.
The Spartans cannot celebrate this tournament victory for long. They head to Louisville to take on Chris Mack’s squad Nov. 27 as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m.