EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Durrell Summers has had nothing but perfect timing lately.
Summers is averaging 20 points over the last four games for the first time and, lo and behold, Michigan State is back in the Final Four. His play comes after a season that saw him benched at one point.
“Durrell has been dynamite,” coach Tom Izzo told The Associated Press on Monday. “He’s been playing his best basketball.”
Summers scored 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting in Sunday’s win over Tennessee, sealing most outstanding player honors for the Midwest Region. He made a 3-pointer with just under 3 minutes left that put the Spartans ahead 69-66 and the shot proved to be a big one in the 70-69 victory.
Summers has scored 80 points in the NCAA tournament — making 56 percent of his shots overall and 53 percent of 3-pointers — and is averaging 4½ rebounds a game.
If the junior shooting guard can keep it up, it will improve Michigan State’s chances of beating Butler on Saturday and the winner of the Duke-West Virginia game for the national championship.
The Spartans started the season ranked No. 2 in the AP poll, but a late-season slump relegated them to being a fifth-seeded.
Michigan State lost five of its last 10 games, including a setback to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals, entering the NCAA tournament.
Not coincidentally, Summers was limited to scoring in single digits in seven of those last eight games.
That lowered expectations for the team, but it didn’t faze Summers or the Spartans.
“We didn’t forget how we play our style of basketball,” Summers said on Sunday. “I just think we had to just get together and get closer as a team and realize we can come up from things. Once we got to tournament time, we said we’ll have a fresh start.”
No one needed that more than Summers.
Izzo benched Summers — despite perhaps having more talent on the team — trying to send a message about the need to focus. During a Feb. 9 loss at Purdue, he played just 16 minutes and scored a mere two points.
That led to one of many face-to-face, heart-to-heart chats with Izzo.
“We’ve had a million talks,” Izzo said. “He’s a lot like Morris Peterson was when he was here. It took Morris a couple years to focus and mature and Durrell is going through the same thing now. Durrell is a good kid. He just has trouble focusing on the task at hand.”
Summers was taking shots on his own at the Breslin Center on Monday, less than 12 hours after playing in St. Louis and a few hours before a film session and walkthrough with his teammates.
“Lately, he’s been spending a lot more time on his game and watching video,” Izzo said. “He’s starting to figure it out.”
When Summers’ mind is on basketball, his talent shines.
He matched his career high with 26 points in the second round against Maryland, scoring at least 20 points for the fifth time this season.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Summers looks like he could be a first-round pick because of his shooting skills and freaking leaping ability during those games.
On other nights — such as a scoreless showing against The Citadel in December — he appears to be destined for the NBA Development League.
Summers has acknowledged being puzzled at his wildly inconsistent play.
But he has figured it out just in time to help Michigan State make another march toward the Final Four, putting the Izzo-led program in college basketball’s showcase for the sixth time in 12 years.
“We just hope he can keep it up,” Izzo said.