Out for the season.
For basketball players, teams and fans, those are the four words you never want to hear. Those were the words that Michigan State fans read about star junior guard Joshua Langford in a press release from head coach Tom Izzo on Wednesday.
The news comes after what was nearly a month of uncertainty regarding his status. Langford first showed signs of injury in the Dec. 29 game against Northern Illinois, when he took himself out at halftime as a result of pain in his left ankle.
That sore ankle is now a “stress injury” that will require surgery as to prevent further damage.
Until that point, Langford was putting together a solid campaign for the Spartans, averaging 15 points per game and 3.6 rebounds on 44 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from 3-point land through 13 games.
“We hate this for Josh and our team, as he was one of our leading scorers, one of our top 3-point shooters and one of our two best defensive guards,” Izzo said in his press release. “But our commitment to Josh and his long term health is paramount. Josh has seen the best specialist in the country on this issue and we are putting together a plan for his complete recovery for the 2019-20 season.”
Prior to the news, Langford had sat out eight consecutive games with his injury. His loss was tough, but the team went 7-1 in his absence, led by Naismith College Player of the Year caliber play from junior guard Cassius Winston. They also got help from freshman Aaron Henry and redshirt junior Kyle Ahrens, and with him now out for the season it will be on their shoulders to step up.
So far in his first season donning the green and white, Henry has shown just why Izzo calls him the most ready freshman out of the group.
His strength and athleticism easily translate to the college game and have been a solid replacement for Langford’s skill. Henry has been able to fill his spot on the wing and help Winston by running to the right spots on the fastbreak.
Although he only averages five points per game, he’s shown that he can have a bigger offensive role without Langford. He’s started five games this season in place of the junior guard, and in those five games he averages 7.6 points. He also reached his career-high in a home game against Maryland when he had 12 points.
It was in this game that Henry showed off what makes him a lynchpin for this Spartans team, his ability to put the ball on the floor and get right into the teeth of the defense is crucial to a Michigan State team that doesn’t have a lot of guys that can create their own opportunities.
Henry has also grown into a top perimeter defender on the team, assisting in slowing down some of the high scoring opponents the Spartans have faced. His help was big in holding Purdue’s high scoring guard Carsen Edwards to 11 points on 3-of-16 shooting when he came to the Breslin Center.
While he does bring a lot to the team, the issue with Henry has been his consistency. The best example was after his 12-point game against Maryland. In the next two games, he had 10 points combined, six coming against Iowa and four against Purdue.
With Langford being shut down for the season, Henry is going to need to find his shot consistently and take some of the load off of Winston.
Another player who will be seeing extended time without Langford is Kyle Ahrens. It’s been clear since the game against Florida on Dec. 8 when he had seven points and a game-sealing dunk that the redshirt junior is a standout role player.
Ahrens scores when you need him to whether it’s from the outside or inside, while also grabbing a few rebounds and making the hustle plays. He’s shown that he can be a piece in the offense, now the question is can he do a little bit more.
Averaging just 5.8 points a game on 50 percent shooting from the field and 31 percent from 3-point range, Ahrens is going to have to get those numbers up, especially the 3-point shooting. Izzo and Michigan State are going to need more games like the one he had against Louisville, when he added 15 points on 6-of-10 from the field and 3-of-6 from beyond the arc.
The lingering question in the back of everyone’s heads is whether or not he can stay healthy. Ahrens has already missed three games this season due to a back injury, and missed the last game of Purdue because of it too. He hopes to return for Saturday’s game against Indiana, but his status remains up in the air. The problem is the back injury might not go away.
“The guy jumps on the floor, he falls on the floor, he plays harder than anybody I’ve ever had so I think he’s going to have a bad back the rest of the year,” Izzo said in his press conference on Tuesday.
Ahrens’ health and the potential of Aaron Henry will be big points to watch as Izzo and this team try and navigate life without Joshua Langford. The two have been a big part in Michigan State going 7-1 when Langford was initially injured, but with a tough stretch of Big Ten games and March Madness approaching, everyone is going to find out if their play is sustainable.