Sycamores one win away from NIT championship

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Sycamores one win away from NIT championship

Photo by Travis David | Indiana State's Isaiah Swope glides to the hoop for a layup in the second half. Swope netted 15 points — all in the second half — to help the Sycamores defeat Utah in the NIT semifinals inside Hinkle Fieldhouse.
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INDIANAPOLIS — Isaiah Swope did not score in the first half of play Tuesday night. But the Indiana State guard more than made up for lost time over the final 20 minutes of play. Swope netted 15 points to help lead the Sycamores to a 100-90 win over Utah in the NIT semifinals inside the historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.


The shifty guard scored eight straight points in just over a two-minute stretch which sparked the Sycamores.


His first bucket of the game — a three-pointer — broke a 47-all tie with 17 minutes, 45 seconds left in the game. After five straight points by Utah, Swope connected from long range once again for a 53-52 lead. The Utes, again, answered with a bucket for a 54-53 lead with 15:54 on the clock.


Swope then carved up the Utes’ defense with a driving layup and a 55-54 lead.


The go-ahead shot would be the ninth and final lead change of the game.


The Sycamores went on a 13-6 run to take control of the game and never looked back.


“There is not a more ignitible player in America,” ISU coach Josh Schertz said of Swope. “He’s that guy that just tends to play his best basketball in money time and those moments of truth.”


Aside from Swope’s haymakers that kept the Utes from taking over the momentum, Xavier Bledson and Julian Larry hit two big knockout punches down the stretch.


Bledson drilled a triple from the wing for a 74-66 lead with just under eight minutes left to play. Larry then connected from the right corner on the Sycamores next possession for a 77-66 lead with 7:36 to play. The shot bounced off the side of the rim, kissed off the glass and swished through the net. The shot prompted Utah to call a timeout, which sent the Sycamore faithful into a frenzy.


Utah would not come closer than eight points the rest of the game.


Conwell finished with 27 points, while Larry added 15 points and handed out eight assists.


Photo by Travis David |
Indiana State’s Julian Larry drives through the Utah defense in the first half. Larry scored 15 points in the Sycamores’ win.


As good as Swope, Conwell and Larry were in the second half, Robbie Avila had the hot hand early for ISU. 


The sophomore scored 11 of his 15 first-half points within the first five minutes of the game.


Avila deferred the credit to his teammates.


“It’s all just within the system we run,” the Sycamores’ big man said. “My teammates set screens for me and they also do a good job of getting downhill, drawing the defense to them and then kick out to me. I think we all do a great job of creating offense for each other.”


The Sycamores led by as many as 11 points in the first half, but then the Utes started to catch fire from distance. Utah went ahead 42-39 after hitting its eighth and final 3-pointer of the half with 2:43 on the clock.


The two teams traded points before Conwell diced up the Utes’ defense in the closing seconds for a contested layup, pulling the Sycamores even at 44 at the break.


Utah finished the game with 17 made 3-pointers.


“They are a great team and just kept coming at us,” Schertz said of the Utes. “Everytime I thought we may have put them away there in the second half, they would hit another shot. But I was proud of our guys for withstanding their runs and staying focused.”


Deivon Smith was a perfect 6 of 6 from distance for a game-high 28 points in the loss. 


Avila finished with 26 points, giving the Sycamores four players in double figures while Jayson Kent (9) and Bledson (8) combined for 17.


The game was the second time this postseason and fourth time overall, the Sycamores have reached the century mark.


“There’s an old quote, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” Schertz said of his offense. “And these guys make complex look pretty easy. We have five guys out there at all times that can give us that fire power.”


After playing in front of raucous, sold-out crowds at home inside the Hulman Center throughout the first three rounds of the tournament, the Sycamores played in front of the same type of crowd Tuesday night.


“It’s been a blessing,” Avila said of the fan support. “To continue to play in front of this type of crowd … it’s been amazing. We are doing it more than just our team, we are doing it for the whole entire Terre Haute community.”


Indiana State (32-6) will play for the NIT championship Thursday at 7 p.m.


Seton Hall (23-12) and Georgia (20-16) squared off in Tuesday night’s second semifinal game.


“I am excited to get to coach these guys again tomorrow (in practice) and certainly can’t wait for Thursday night,” Schertz said.

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