He had been here before. This season, in fact. One-possession game with the ball in his hands and a chance to win in the final seconds. Only this time he wouldn’t settle.
“(Ole Miss head) Coach (Andy Kennedy) always tells me to go right,” Summers said. “That’s my strength. I just listened to him this game and tried to make a play.”
“This game” was Florida Saturday afternoon. And the NCAA tournament ramifications the game carried were significant.
Whether Ole Miss was playing an elimination game of sorts is up for debate, but it should be noted that well-regarded ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi posted on Twitter prior to tipoff the loser would be all but out of the 68-team conversation.
So, Summers took the ball with just over nine seconds remaining, shades of the Rebels’ three-point overtime loss at No. 1 Kentucky. Summers had a chance to win it in regulation, but rather than attempt to drive to the basket and challenge Wildcat guard Aaron Harrison, he opted for a contested 3-pointer.
He could have made history. Ole Miss had won in Lexington all of two times in 50 attempts, its overall record 13-103 in the series. Kennedy justifiably put the ball in his hands. Summers scored 18 points combined in the second half and overtime.
But he missed.
“I beat myself up after that game,” he said. “I just had to move forward. I told myself if I was ever going get in that situation again, I was going to keep going to the hole and be aggressive.”
He was aggressive Saturday.
M.J. Rhett set a high-ball screen, Summers rolled off his shoulder and drove right. He missed the shot but made two free throws after Florida was called for a foul. Final: Ole Miss 72, Florida 71, the Rebels moving to 12-7 (3-3 SEC) on the season.
They live to fight another day.
“He really made a great play,” Gator head coach Billy Donovan said. “He turned down the screen where the help was. He got down the lane. He’s a senior, veteran guard. He’s crafty. He physically hurt us once he got in the lane. He made a really good move.”
“He’s an all-league player,” Kennedy said. “He’s been here before. We need him to carry us in these situations. We had a situation like that earlier in the year against Kentucky and he settled a little bit. Tonight, I thought he did a much better job of attacking off the bounce. He got to his strong hand, and then stepped up and made two huge free throws.”
Summers didn’t have his best shooting night. He finished with 16 points on 5 of 11 from the field, including 1 of 4 from 3. From the line, though, he was nearly perfect, sinking 5 of 6 attempts. Ole Miss leads the nation in free throw percentage at 79.8 percent. He also added eight assists.
But what he lacked in efficiency he more than made up for with poise learned from experience.
“I think it’s good for our confidence,” Kennedy said of the win, which handed Florida its third-straight loss to drop the Gators to 10-9 (3-3 SEC) overall. “We’re not as confident group as I would have hoped, despite some of our early wins. It shows we’re a good basketball team. You’ve got to be able to stack wins at this time of the year.
“This was obviously a vital game for us.”
Vital for Summers, too. And he delivered.
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