College Basketball

Sycamores march on to NIT championship


INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana State continued their march toward the National Invitational Basketball championship game by defeating Utah 100-90 at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Tuesday. In a game that had the feel of a home game with over 7,000 ISU fans in attendance, ISU’s potent offense was on full display.

Indiana State (32-6) got off to a good start and led 17-7 just four minutes into the game. ISU’s Robbie Avila ignited the start with two three-point baskets.

Utah slowly fought back and took a 34-33 lead with 4:58 remaining in the half. The two teams traded baskets the remainder of the half and the score was tied at 44 apiece at halftime.

Avila led the Sycamores at half with 15 points by going 6 of 8 from the field including three treys. The post player finished the game with 25 points. Avila credited his teammates for his performance.

“It’s just my teammates creating for me.” Avila said. “A lot of that is I got the first one in transition. I was able to knock that one down and then the other ones, Ryan (Caldwell)  and Ju (Julian Larry), were able to get downhill and draw the big man and  then they kicked it out to me.”

“So I don’t get those open shots if they don’t get downhill and create it for me. It’s just within the system and those guys are able to make plays for me,” Avila said.

After teams traded baskets to start the second half, ISU took the lead for good when guard Isaiah Swope scored on a layup giving his team a 55-54 lead. Swope, who is Indiana State’s season leading scorer, was held scoreless in the first. However he ended the game with 15 points in the second half.

ISU’s offense executed in the final half as the Sycamores shot 60% from the field and finished the game by connecting on 57% (37-65) of their shots. The Sycamores’ biggest lead of the game of 15 points came at 3:27 of the final half. ISU had the lead for over 29 minutes in the game.

Sycamore coach Josh Schertz complimented his team’s offensive execution.

“There’s a lot of firepower, a lot of diversity,” Schertz said. “Whether it’s Julian (Larry) attacking the paint, Isaiah (Swope) as ignitable as any player in the country; Ryan (Conwell) playing at an elite level; Jayson Kent with all the cutting and movement. Whatever you throw at them, they are able to attack it.”

Utah’s coach Craig Smith complimented the Sycamore offense after the game.

“The second half, obviously, we just didn’t have enough answers,” Smith said.  “I thought they hurt us in transition. They hurt us some in the zone and we struggled in the man. They put a lot of pressure on you. They have three play-making guards that can do a lot of things. They can shoot, pass, handle, very unselfish, and their big can really shoot it and pass it. And No. 20 for them, Kent, is a very good offensive rebounder, elite cutter. Credit to them.”

Ryan Conwell scored 27 points to lead the Sycamores who had four double-digit scorers.

Utah (22-15)  had five players in double figures including the game’s leading scorer Deivon Smith who scored 28 which included a perfect 6-for-6 from behind the arch. 

ISU’s march to tonight’s championship game has included wins over teams from the Big-12, B10, ACC and the PAC-12. Tonight’s opponent, Seton Hall, is from the Big East. Mid-Major teams like the Sycamores do not get many chances to play Power-6 teams and ISU. Playing the caliber of teams in the NIT has benefits for his program according to Schertz.

“As a mid-major you can’t get Power-6 teams to come to our place,” Schertz said last week. “This is a great opportunity for our program and we get good national exposure. Obviously, after the disappointment of being left out of the NCAA tournament, we have come together and are enjoying being able to play more games. The grit of this team is outstanding.”

The NIT Championship game will be televised at 7 p.m. on ESPN tonight as ISU will take on Seton Hall who defeated Georgia in the other semi-final 84-67