Second half rally sends Sycamores to Hinkle Fieldhouse

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Second half rally sends Sycamores to Hinkle Fieldhouse

Photo by Travis David | Indiana State's Robbie Avila launches a 3-pointer Tuesday night against Cincinnati. Avila finished with a team-high 22 points in the Sycamores' NIT win.
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TERRE HAUTE — Xavier Bledson was named the Sixth Man of the Year in the Missouri Valley Conference during the regular season.


Tuesday night the Indiana State University senior showed why.


Bledson came off the bench and sparked a key second-half rally against Cincinnati in the quarterfinals of the NIT inside the Hulman Center. Bledson’s pair of assists and corner three fueled a 10-0 run by the Sycamores which flipped the game’s momentum. 


ISU would go on to score a 85-81 win over the Bearcats, advancing to the NIT Final Four next week at Hinkle Fieldhouse.


Trailing 65-64 with just over eight minutes on the clock, Bledson threaded the needle from halfcourt to Jayson Kent at the bucket which resulted in a one-handed slam.


Bledson then dropped a dime to Julian Larry on the Sycamores next possession for a 69-65 lead before draining a corner three with just over seven minutes left in the game. Bledson’s three gave ISU a 72-65 lead, after they had trailed by as many as eight points earlier in the half.


“He just does it every game for us,” ISU coach Josh Schertz said of Bledson’s play. “He just finds a way to contribute to this team no matter how many minutes he gets. He is an amazing passer. He is so smart, so tough and an amazing teammate and he is another coach on the bench for us.”


Following the 3-pointer for the Sycamores largest lead of the game, Cincinnati coach Wes Miller was whistled for a technical foul. Ryan Conwell stepped up and sank both freebies for a 74-65 lead.


But the Bearcats would not go down without a fight.


Cincinnati would eventually pull even on a three-pointer from Simas Lukosius with 2:53 left on the clock.


Lukosius finished with a game-high 21 points including six made 3-pointers.


“I know the box score shows that he missed eight 3’s tonight, but I don’t remember any of them,” Schertz said of the Bearcat’s sharpshooter. “He was really good for them.”


Photo by Travis David |
A pair of young Indiana State fans sitting courtside celebrate a 3-pointer by the Sycamores Tuesday night. ISU defeated Cincinnati in a quarterfinal game of the NIT inside the Hulman Center.


After the two teams traded missed shots, the Sycamores heart and soul, Robbie Avila, hit the game’s biggest shot.


After a pair of offensive rebounds by Larry and Conwell, Avila knocked down the game-winning shot from the top of the key for a 80-77 lead with 59 seconds left on the clock.


Avila admitted he knew the shot was going in once it left his hands.


“That one, as I shot it, I kind of felt it and started to jog back to the other end,” Avila said with a chuckle. “But really it just goes back to trusting what I have done all year … I am capable of hitting shots like that, early in the game, late in the game, I just have the confidence to hit those shots.”


The Sycamores would not relinquish the lead.


Kent added a pair of free throws for an 82-77 lead with 12.6 seconds left.


Lukosius nailed his final shot with seven ticks left in the game pulling the Bearcats to within two, but ISU finished the game at the line with free throws from Isiah Swope and Bledson.


Avila paced the Sycamores with 22 points to go along with six assists and five rebounds.

Conwell (18), Kent (16) and Swope (12) all finished in double figures in points.

Bledson finished with five points and three assists.


Jizzle James, the son for former Indianapolis Colts’ star running back Edgerin James added 21 points for the Bearcats in the loss.


With the win, ISU improved to 31-6 on the season. 


The Sycamores will face Wednesday night’s quarterfinal winner between VCU and Utah.


The NIT semifinals will take place at Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University next Tuesday. With the NIT championship, on Thursday, April 4.


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