Why Michigan State basketball's Joshua Langford may play point guard vs. Purdue

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Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press
·4 min read
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Rocket Watts appears to be in the clear from COVID-19.

But Michigan State basketball could be facing a crunch at point guard as it prepares to travel for Tuesday’s game at Purdue.

Tom Izzo said Watts has tested negative for the novel coronavirus since leaving at halftime of the Spartans’ 88-58 loss to Iowa on Saturday, but MSU’s coach added his sophomore combo guard “is sick.”

“He's got the flu, I guess,” Izzo said Monday, “so he hasn't practiced at all.”

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Watts played 10 minutes in the first half against Iowa, scoring three points on 1 of 4 shooting, but did not return after halftime. Izzo said after the game that Watts left Breslin Center and went into isolation immediately.

For left, Michigan State's Rocket Watts, Foster Loyer and Aaron Henry joke around on the bench late during the second half of the game against  Eastern Michigan on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
For left, Michigan State's Rocket Watts, Foster Loyer and Aaron Henry joke around on the bench late during the second half of the game against Eastern Michigan on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

However, Izzo said Watts is expected to make the bus trip to West Lafayette, Indiana, and be available when the Spartans tip off against the Boilermakers (7 p.m./ESPN) at Mackey Arena.

Along with Watts, Foster Loyer also is questionable with a left shoulder injury that required him to wear a sleeve against the Hawkeyes and kept him out the final 14:05 of the loss.

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Izzo said the junior point guard injured his shoulder against Nebraska on Feb. 6, then further aggravated it against Penn State on Feb. 9. Loyer started both of those wins, as well as the loss to Iowa. He went scoreless the past two games while playing 20 minutes against the Hawkeyes and 25 against the Nittany Lions, but Izzo said Loyer has not practiced since Saturday.

“I do think both will be able to play,” Izzo said of Loyer and Watts. “How much or what, I don't know that.”

It is a critical stretch as MSU (10-8, 4-8 Big Ten) fights for its dwindling NCAA tournament hopes and to keep Izzo’s streak of 22 straight appearances alive. The Spartans have eight regular-season games remaining, with a trip to Indiana on Saturday also ahead after the trip to Purdue (13-8, 8-6).

“I’m ready to accept that I gotta fight my tail off the last eight games …,” Izzo said. “We've got our players, we got our coaches, and we're gonna go play the game.”

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If both Watts and Loyer are limited or unavailable, that would leave freshman A.J. Hoggard as the Spartans’ only remaining point guard option. Izzo used senior Joshua Langford and junior Aaron Henry in a lead guard role in the second half of the blowout against Iowa.

It wouldn’t be the first time Izzo experimented with the 6-foot-5 Langford running point guard.

Michigan State Spartans guard Joshua Langford (1) passes against Iowa Hawkeyes forward Jack Nunge (2) during second half action at Breslin Center on Saturday, February 13, 2021.
Michigan State Spartans guard Joshua Langford (1) passes against Iowa Hawkeyes forward Jack Nunge (2) during second half action at Breslin Center on Saturday, February 13, 2021.

He used him there late in an overtime loss at Louisville during the 2018-19 nonconference season after Cassius Winston fouled out, with Matt McQuaid sidelined with an injury and following Loyer’s missed free throw at the end of regulation. The 6-6 Henry also has brought the ball up the court occasionally, and both give the offense a different dynamic with their height.

“The reason I looked at Josh or even Aaron, I was reminded of early on when we went with Chris Hill at the point, who was a 2-guard,” Izzo said. “We just have to change our package up, but it gives us some ability, it gives us maybe another guy like Gabe (Brown) to play on the wing and we could go with a little bigger lineup and maybe a little better shooting than we've been shooting.

“It's definitely in the game plan that we could use it. I don't think we'll start out that way, but today and tomorrow will kind of tell in a couple different ways.”

The 6-3, 220-pound Hoggard (0 points) played nine of his 15 minutes and dished out four of his five assists in the second half vs. Iowaf. His personal -high 26 minutes came in the first meeting against Purdue, a 55-54 home loss on Jan. 8 in which Hoggard had three points, three rebounds, four assists and two turnovers.

“A.J. is ready to play, and he played pretty well against them last time,” Izzo said.

Michigan State Spartans guard A.J. Hoggard (11) shoots against the Iowa Hawkeyes during first half action at Breslin Center Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021.
Michigan State Spartans guard A.J. Hoggard (11) shoots against the Iowa Hawkeyes during first half action at Breslin Center Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021.

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball may use Aaron Henry as lead guard at Purdue