Summers bails Rebels out of a big jam

OXFORD — Mississippi State shot a scalding 55.6 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point land, and out-rebounded Ole Miss 34-31. And State lost.

Bulldog Craig Sword hit a career high five 3-pointers and scored 27 points. And State lost.

In what was probably the last State-Ole Miss game ever at Tad Smith Coliseum, the Rebels erased an 13-point second half deficit and earned a 79-73 victory.

State can’t play much better, and Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy knew it.

That’s why Kennedy called the victory “a gutsy win.”

“I give our guys credit for staying in the fight,” Kennedy added.

The loss had State’s Rick Ray shaking his head and saying, “I’ve got to evaluate the tape when we get home.”

But not for the usual reasons.

“I want to see how we only got to the foul line 11 times and they shot 37 free throws,” Ray said. “We want to be as successful as Ole Miss getting to the line.”

Looking for the key stat of the game? Ole Miss made 18 more free throws than State shot. Eighteen. That’s how the Rebels won a game when they were out-scored by 17 points from the field.

Looking for a hero? He would be Jarvis Summers, who scored all of his 22 points in the second half, mostly on hitting 12 of 15 shots from the free throw line.

Summers made senior plays down the stretch, none bigger than the 4-point play he made with just over three minutes remaining that stretched a 2-point lead to 6. With the shot clock winding down, Summers got defender Roquez Johnson in the air, forced considerable contact and somehow made the 20-foot shot and the free throw that followed.

Asked if he was surprised the 3-pointer rattled home considering the contact, Summers smiled sheepishly and answered, “Yes sir, I was.”

It was a dagger and the kind of play a seasoned senior makes when his team needs it most. Summers either scored or assisted on 14 of the Rebels’ final 17 points in the last five minutes. That’s clutch, which is something Rick Ray respects.

“He’s their best player,” Ray said of Summers. “He was their best player last year. He has an unbelievable ability to not get caught up in the moment.”

It took Summers’ magnificent second half effort to overcome the game-long excellence of guards Sword and I.J. Ready for State. Sword was more than excellent. He was valiant, playing despite a bad back that he re-injured during State’s shoot-around earlier Wednesday. At times Sword had to go stretch out behind State’s bench. It even looked painful.

“Chicken (Sword) is one of the toughest kids I’ve ever been around,” Ray said. “It was a game-time decision that he would even play.”

The victory was crucial to the Rebels’ post-season hopes. Most bracket experts have Ole Miss, now 13-7 and 4-3, on the bubble, which is where the Rebels seem to be every year about this time. A home loss to State, now 9-11 and 2-5, would have all but popped that bubble.

“If you’re going to play meaningful basketball in March, you’ve got win your home games,” Kennedy said, and he is correct.

You especially need to win when you are playing your arch-rival before a packed house of 8,959.

“I gotta give Mississippi State a lot of credit,” said Kennedy, who praised State’s effort and execution.

“That’s the first time we’ve been out-rebounded in some time,” Kennedy said.

“Mississippi State made plays,” Kennedy added. “They were whipping the ball around, making shots.”

They were, indeed. But any time one team makes 18 more free throws than the other team shoots, the result is predictable. No matter what all the other stats indicate.

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