Mistake-prone. Frustrated. Falling apart.
It was something MSU’s veterans made sure didn’t last.
After falling behind Texas by 19 points in the first half of Friday’s Las Vegas Invitational title game, the Spartans began to steady themselves. On offense and defense.
By halftime, they cut the deficit to single digits. And then Joshua Langford took over with 13 of his game-high 29 points in the first 61/2 minutes of the second half to rally 11th-ranked MSU to a 78-68 championship victory at Orleans Arena.
Cassius Winston had 20 points and 10 assists despite seven of his team’s season-worst 24 turnovers, and freshman Aaron Henry added eight points and five rebounds off the bench for the Spartans (6-1), who travel to Louisville on Tuesday (7:30 p.m./ESPN).
Kerwin Roach II had 15 points for Texas (5-1), which is unranked but defeated No. 7 North Carolina to get to the title game.
The first 8 minutes were a disaster offensively for MSU. And the Longhorns did exactly what they did Thursday in beating North Carolina — forced turnovers and turned them into points.
Winston coughed the ball up twice in the first 90 seconds. Kenny Goins turned it over three times, including a 5-second call on an inbound pass.
By the time Marcus Bingham Jr. threw the ball away on an inbounds play with 12:05 remaining, the Spartans had committed 10 turnovers. And Texas took full advantage, racing out to a 25-6 lead and scoring 11 points off turnovers.
But the Spartans began to adjust to the Longhorns’ length and athletic ability, with coach Tom Izzo shuffling lineups throughout the final 10-plus minutes. Henry played a pivotal role off the bench, hitting a pair of driving baskets and a 3-pointer with five straight Langford points sandwiched between.
Defensively, the Spartans found their became grittier on the perimeter and in the paint. Nick Ward came across the lane to block big man Jaxson Hayes’ layup attempt, then picked up a rebound at the other end and scored to pull MSU within six.
MSU shot 48.3 percent in the period and held an 18-13 edge in rebounding, as well as a 16-12 scoring advantage in the paint. But the turnovers drew Izzo’s wrath, as Texas led 44-36 at halftime.
“We deserved what we got,” he told the Fox broadcast at halftime. “Winston came out casual, Kenny came out casual. We did not play hard. Give (the Longhorns) a lot of credit — they played 10 times harder than we did, so that’s the difference in the game. When you have five turnovers in the first 4 minutes, it’s the difference in the game. … This is embarrassing to me.”
That is when Langford and Winston started to take over.
The junior guard hit back-to-back 3-pointers a little over a minute into the second half to spark a 22-4 takeover run by the Spartans. Langford hit three 3-pointers in the stretch, a layup and a jumper.
Meanwhile, the Spartans began to lock down on defense, forcing a few shot-clock violations and disrupting the Longhorns’ rhythm. Texas, which hit 7 of 17 3-pointers in the first half, looked weary after intermission and missed 10 of its first 12 from behind the arc as MSU opened a 12-point lead with 3:23 to play.
The Longhorns pulled back within eight, but Langford buried his career-high-tying fifth 3-pointer with a little more than 2 minutes remaining to rebuild the cushion.
MSU held Texas to just 21.9 percent from the field and 2 of 17 from 3-point range in the second half. The Spartans outrebounded Texas, 42-23, with Ward grabbing eight boards to go with his six points.
Winston was named tournament MVP, and Langford and Ward also were on the all-tournament team.